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Jury finds former King County district commissioner guilty of stealing taxpayer money

Allan “Benny” Thomas previously denied that he used more than $450,000 in tax money collected by the public district.

ENUMCLAW, Wash — A former elected commissioner of King County Drainage District No. 5 was found guilty of stealing district taxpayer money.

Allan “Benny” Thomas and his wife JoAnn faced 15 federal charges including conspiracy and money laundering.

Allan “Benny” Thomas, who previously denied that he used more than $450,000 in tax money collected by the public district to pay expenses for his Enumclaw dairy farm, was found guilty on 10 of 15 charges, including conspiracy, four counts each of wire and mail fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

His wife, JoAnn, was found guilty on all 15 counts, including a second count of aggravated identity theft and four counts of money laundering.

Thomas was the longtime, elected commissioner of King County Drainage District No. 5 near Enumclaw and was responsible for maintaining nearly 20 miles of open trenches that provide drainage to the farmland outside the city.

Records show that various public agencies were tipped that Thomas may have been misappropriating the $70,000 to $80,000 per year in taxes that the drainage district collects from landowners to clean the open trenches and keep stormwater flowing. But none took action beyond a vague warning.

In 2019, the KING 5 Investigators reported on records that showed that Thomas and his wife created a fictitious company that he claimed was a contractor that was billing for the trench work. In fact, the company’s address was the home of Thomas’s mother-in-law.

Records showed that, after Thomas was questioned about the billing irregularities, he set up a scheme to submit fake invoices from a friend’s company. That company continued to bill the county until KING 5 aired its investigation in 2019.

A state audit after KING 5’s story showed that the couple diverted more than $468,000 in tax money collected over eight years to pay for operations on their private dairy farm.  The audit revealed the Thomas’ spent the money on hay, equipment, and farm services.

Thomas and his wife pleaded “not guilty.”  Their trial was delayed repeatedly because of pandemic shutdowns and illness of the couple and their defense lawyers.

Earlier this week, the Thomas' testified. Allan Thomas said district records seized by the FBI did not accurately reflect how tax money collected since 2012 was spent. Allan Thomas said the records are not clear and that “…for farmer level (bookkeeping) we do pretty good. For professional level, not so good.”  

The defense claimed the City of Enumclaw bolstered suspicions that Thomas and his wife, JoAnn, were stealing tax money because the city wanted to acquire the Thomas’s 155-acre dairy farm for residential development. 

JoAnn Thomas also testified that government evidence does not accurately reflect where the $70,000-$80,000 the drainage district collected per year from taxpaying landowners was spent. 

“I’m a really lousy bookkeeper,” she said to the jury.

Assistant US Attorneys Andrew Friedman and Justin Arnold have told jurors that the Thomas’s created a shell contracting company that claimed it was cleaning and maintaining the 20 or so miles of stormwater trenches in Drainage District No. 5. That company billed King County government for the supposed work, with commissioner Thomas signing off on the job. 

The federal government said the Thomas’s actually collected the money paid to the fictitious company and deposited it in their personal bank account to pay for expenses on their dairy farm. 

The couple claimed their son, Alex Thomas, owned and operated the contracting company legitimately and that he was paid for clearing ditches. But Alex Thomas testified last week that he only cleaned ditches once or twice in 2012 and has not had any involvement with the company since.

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