Chief probation officer is suspected of embezzlement
Del Norte County Chief Probation Officer Thomas Crowell was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement Thursday evening.
Crowell, 46, turned himself in to authorities around 5:30 p.m. after a warrant was issued for his arrest earlier in the day for allegedly embezzling $800 from a bank account belonging to Law Enforcement Administrators of Del Norte County in September, authorities said.
LEADN is comprised of all the local law enforcement agencies, from parks to Pelican Bay State Prison. It helps provide training to officers and devises plans to improve service to the community. Crowell is vice-president of the association, though his status will likely be reviewed at the next meeting, said sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven, who is president of LEADN.
Members of the association pay monthly dues that go into a bank account that only Steven and Crowell can access, according to a search warrant affidavit.
In the beginning of October, sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey reviewed the account’s bank statement and noticed there were two separate $400 electronic transfers from the account to another checking account which occurred Sept. 5 and the following day, according to the affidavit.
Athey showed the statement to Steven, who then contacted the bank and was informed Crowell made the transactions, the affidavit states.
Steven then contacted Crowell, who admitted using the association’s money, the affidavit states.
“I made an initial inquiry and decided things didn’t seem proper,” said Steven in an interview with the Triplicate on Thursday.
During the conversation, Crowell told Steven he was having financial problems and the money was spent on himself and his son, the affidavit states.
Crowell told Steven he did not have money in his personal account on the days money was withdrawn from LEADN’s account, the affidavit states.
After the conversation with Crowell, Steven said he decided to ask investigators from the Humboldt District Attorney’s Office to handle the matter, considering every law enforcement agency including the Del Norte District Attorney’s Office is connected to LEADN and therefore affected.
“We are confident those were the only times money was taken from the account,” said Steven.
The investigation by Humboldt authorities began Oct. 5 and on Oct. 25 Crowell was contacted, but refused to speak, the affidavit states.
After suspicions arose that Crowell may have gambling problems, a search warrant was procured and served on Lucky 7 and Elk Valley casinos, where records revealed Crowell “gambled about $82,000” from January through October of this year, the affidavit states.
It also states Crowell gambled at Elk Valley on the days of the transfers.
Crowell did not return a call made to his cell phone Friday.
The county Board of Supervisors decided to place Crowell on unpaid administrative leave during an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon, said County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Sullivan declined to comment on the reason for placing Crowell on unpaid rather than paid leave, saying it was a personnel matter.
Former sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Garcia was placed on paid administrative leave after he was arrested on suspicion of several felony counts including burglary, embezzlement and grand theft in August 2010.
Garcia remained on paid leave until his conviction on reduced charges in April 2011.
The Board of Supervisors can review the decision placing Crowell on unpaid leave, Sarina said.
Assistant Chief Probation Officer Linda Sanford will take on Crowell’s professional duties while he remains on leave.
Crowell was heavily involved with helping the county deal with the influx of more parolees and inmates that resulted from the state prison realignment.
County Auditor-Controller Clinton Schaad said that Crowell only had access to petty cash and credit card accounts.
“Everything at this point looks good to me,” said Schaad, who has reviewed most of the probation department’s financial information. “We don’t have any reason to believe anything is missing from the county. I’ll continue a bit more on Tuesday.”
Formal charges from the District Attorney’s Office had not been brought against Crowell as of Friday.
His arraignment is scheduled Dec. 18.
County District Attorney Jon Alexander declined to elaborate on the case.