Lakewood police guild treasurer accused of theft made $89K in '10
If true, the charges are ugly: A police officer cashing in on the deaths of four colleagues and feathering his nest with shiny toys.
The defendant: Lakewood officer Skeeter Timothy Manos, 34, a seven-year veteran of the department and treasurer of the Lakewood Police Independent Guild, the department's union. His annual salary: $89,710 in 2010, public records state.
The charges: 10 federal counts of wire fraud, involving the theft of at least $151,000 from a charitable fund intended for the families of four Lakewood officers slain in 2009.
Manos made his first appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
In keeping with standard procedure, he did not enter a plea.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Creatura released Manos on his own recognizance but only after being assured that all firearms had been removed from the officer's home and ordering him to get a mental-health evaluation as soon as possible.
"Your life has changed dramatically today," Creatura told Manos, who was dressed in jeans and a golf shirt. "I need to make sure the community is safe and that your family is safe."
"Yes, sir, your honor," Manos replied.
Charging papers say the thefts began in January 2010, less than two months after gunman Maurice Clemmons fatally shot Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards on Nov. 29, 2009.
The fund established for the officers' families generated more than $3.2 million in the wake of the slayings. As union treasurer, Manos was in charge of deposits to the account. Starting in early 2010 and continuing through February of last year, he diverted donations into a secret and separate account instead of placing them into the charity fund, charging papers say.
He bought snowboarding gear (his and hers), a stainless steel refrigerator with French doors, a dishwasher, truck toys and accessories. He bought a computer, a flat-screen TV and an air conditioner. He bought airline tickets to Las Vegas for himself and his wife, and stayed at the swanky Bellagio Hotel. He paid seven months of rent on a heated storage unit in DuPont. On dozens of occasions, he gambled at casinos in Pierce and Thurston counties, typically withdrawing money in $500 chunks.
He used an ATM card tied to the secret account, a card Manos established without the knowledge or permission of guild members, charging papers state.
Officer Brian Wurts, president of the guild, has been placed on paid administrative leave, Chief Bret Farrar said. His signature is on the secret account, but court records suggest the signature is not genuine.
Wurts will remain on leave until the FBI determines whether he was involved, Farrar said. He did not respond to phone calls requesting a comment.
"This is a sad day for our community," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said. "These acts betrayed the memory of our fallen heroes, their families, fellow officers and all who supported the fund. I commend the Lakewood Police and the Pierce County prosecutor for coming forward promptly with evidence of these crimes."
Court records say the theft was uncovered by Lakewood police officer Jeremy Vahle, a union member who suspected money was being stolen from the charitable fund, and who shared his concerns with department leaders, including Farrar.
"My reaction at first was disbelief that one of our officers could act in that manner," Farrar said Wednesday. "But I'm resigned to the fact that it looks like there was some misappropriation of these funds going on."
Department leaders looked into the allegation, gathered evidence, including bank records, and shared it with Pierce County prosecutors, who forwarded the information and evidence to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office; a move intended to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.
"Stealing from the children of our fallen officers is disgraceful," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. "While these allegations are despicable, we should not lose sight of the honorable work the Lakewood Police Department does for our community."
One person who donated to the charity commented on The News Tribune's online account of Manos' arrest.
"Oh my God. Really? Stealing from victim's families?" the commenter wrote. "There is low, and there is contemptibly low. Officer Manos apparently was able to go beyond even contemptibly low. I donated $25 to that fund; I want Manos to donate my $25 to the fund - again."
Helen McGovern, executive director of the Emergency Food Network, is one of five trustees overseeing the money donated for the fallen officers' children.
"It's shocking. It's disgusting," she said Wednesday. "It's impossible to comprehend how anyone could do that."
McGovern said Manos allegedly took donations when they were made via cash or check. He didn't take money from the trust fund account once it was set up, she said.
The trust fund was set up to last 25 years, until the youngest child has finished college. The fund is intended to pay for school tuition, counseling, equipment, medical costs and other needs of the children, McGovern said. The signatures of three trustees are required on any check from the fund.
Last year, the fund paid for college tuition for two children, private school for others, a computer for one and counseling, McGovern said. Money also was spent to send the families to Washington, D.C., for the National Police Week activities.
Manos, a former state trooper, was an original member of the Lakewood Police Department, established in 2004. In light of the federal case, he has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, Farrar said.
Lakewood Sgt. John Unfred, a guild member and treasurer of the Lakewood Officers' Charity, released a statement Wednesday saying the guild was cooperating fully with the federal investigation. Unfred noted that Manos was treasurer of the guild, but not a member of the charity's executive board, a separate entity.
Court records show that guild members, including Unfred, have been interviewed about the case and provided records and information. Records also say that records of the bank account Manos established were hidden from guild members.
"The Lakewood Officers' Charity was shocked and outraged when we first learned about the allegations of theft of donated funds intended for the charity," Unfred wrote. "We refuse to allow the actions of one person to interfere with the intended purpose of our charity and the good work our officers do in our community every day."
Conviction on the charges could end Manos's law enforcement career. Farrar said the court process comes first. The charges are allegations, as yet unproven in court. Any potential employment actions must follow the rules of employment law, regardless of the criminal case, he said.
In the meantime, Judge Creatura ordered Manos to have no contact with the Police Department. Any matters related to his employment will run through a probation officer.
Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz condemned the theft but praised the Police Department for taking swift action.
"While I am disappointed that such a serious breach of trust was committed, I am very proud that the Lakewood Police Department was able to 'police' its own," he said. "The investigation was initiated by a Lakewood officer, and the chief responded decisively."
On Nov. 30, 2009, the day after the shootings, donations were pouring into the police guild's website. Manos wrote a note that day that was still there Wednesday:
"Words alone cannot begin to describe how much donating means not only to the fallen officers' families, but to each and every Lakewood officer," Manos wrote. "The comments that are sent along with each donation are personally read by me. Many times I have had to stop and recompose myself because of the overwhelming support and compassion displayed by the generous community supporting us during this difficult period."
Less than three months later, Manos bought the refrigerator and other appliances at The Home Depot, court records state.Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
email@example.comStaff writers Adam Lynn and Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.