Pacific mayor cleared of charges in City credit card investigation

Pacific Mayor Richard Hildreth has been cleared of charges that he illegally used a City credit card for personal use.

The King County Prosecutor's Office officially declined Tuesday to charge Hildreth, following a King County Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division probe.

The City Council – in a 4-3 vote at the Aug. 29 special meeting – asked for an outside investigative body to determine if Hildreth had committed a crime by violating the City's credit card policy.

King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dana Cashman reviewed the case and declined to prosecute, concluding that the investigation "did not find that there was evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an intent to deprive the city of these funds, which is an essential element of the crime of theft."

Hildreth is ready to put the matter behind him so the City can move on to other business.

"I think a lot of this was politically motivated," said Hildreth, who is running for a third term in office this fall. "It was put to the Council by one of my opponents (John Jones), and it's been the fodder of my write-in opposition (Cy Sun) since June.

"As I said all along, there was no intent or deception of the citizens. There was no attempt to defraud anybody," Hildreth added. "I personally hope this puts an end to all of the questions, innuendo and political rhetoric that has been stated over these past few months.

"I stand behind the comments I made that much of this was politically motivated and timed to coincide with the elections for mayor."

Jones denies using the controversy for political gain as he continues his campaign efforts. He said the City Council did its job, motioning for the proper authorities to investigate and resolve the matter.

Hildreth had been the focus of a lengthy probe and audit for allegedly using the City credit card for personal use. At the center of the investigation was the mayor's purchase of his wife's airline ticket in 2007 to New Orleans, where he was to speak at a national restoration conference.

The completed audit by Canfield and Associates – the City's insurance company – found that Hildreth had employed the credit card for personal use by purchasing the airfare, but that he had reimbursed the City in full for the purchase.

Hildreth said he paid for the ticket in advance and consulted with the City finance director about how to proceed.

But, as Jones pointed out, the use of the City's credit card for personal use is specifically prohibited under City ordinance.

The Canfield and Associates audit reviewed the mayor's travel expenses, donations and reimbursements for the years 2006-2011. The final report found the mayor in compliance with the City's travel policy and "that more likely than not, Mayor Hildreth routinely reimbursed the City any money that he received as a reimbursement from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for trainings."

In the wake of the controversy, the City Council has since imposed more precise, more stringent and clearer credit card policies and procedures.

Hildreth said he never used the card for personal expenses but only for frequent travel to emergency training.

"As I have stated from the beginning, there is no corruption in my office, and the citizens can rest comfortably (knowing) that all of their tax money is spent wisely and only in their interest," Hildreth said.

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