Deborah Sheehan said she stole the money – nearly a quarter of a million dollars – to pay her gambling debts, and she was very sorry.
Pierce County prosecutors noted her remorse but still charged the 46-year-old Spanaway woman with 27 counts of theft and forgery. She has not been arraigned and is not in custody. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest Tuesday.
Sheehan worked for nine years as a senior paralegal at the Tacoma-based law firm of David Vail & Associates, which handles workers’ compensation, personal injury and disability cases, before she was caught in April 2012, prosecutors said.
She is accused of stealing and cashing 89 checks intended for clients totaling $234,845. Police said she also admitted to stealing thousands from her homeowners association.
“The defendant said that she knew that stealing was wrong, but she tried to block it out,” charging papers state.
Police began investigating Sheehan after her bank called the law firm to alert them she had tried to deposit a check written out to someone else into her personal account.
The office manager discovered the check had been written to one of the law firm’s clients as reimbursement for overpayment, but the name later was changed to Sheehan’s.
Sheehan told police she would take the checks once they were mailed to the law firm and print her name on them, prosecutors said. Most of the checks were written as advance payments for settlements by the state Labor and Industries Office and private employers.
Prosecutors said Sheehan even opened a new account and forged a power of attorney form for a client so she could deposit checks more easily.
Sheehan’s husband used separate banking accounts and did not notice the substantial deposits, documents state. Her reason for stealing was because “she feels stress at home and work,” according to charging papers. That led to gambling.
One of the theft counts filed against Sheehan is for stealing from the Taylor Pointe Home Owners Association, which she served as president in 2011 and 2012.
Documents indicate she wrote herself checks totaling $12,950 from the association’s account, writing on the check memo lines notations such as “new fence, block party,” “fx playground equipment” and “repairs and landscaping.”
The association treasurer told police the group never had a block party, and none of the money Sheehan took was spent on association items.
Sheehan was caught in July 2012, three months after she was first interviewed by police, trying to remove an additional $700 from the home association’s bank account. The teller refused to hand it over.Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@ thenewstribune.com