Tenino mayor says city was scammed out of $270,000 last year

Jan 18, 2021, 11:46 AM
Tenino, Washington...
The town of Tenino, Washington. (Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

There have been several cities scammed out of money in the last couple of years, and, of course, the Employment Security Department in Washington state supposedly had scammers steal $650 million. A scam recently hit the city of Tenino, which allegedly lost $270,000 to fraudsters last year.

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“The details are still forthcoming, and I have to be careful about how much I say because there’s still an open investigation with State Patrol and the FBI,” Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show. “But as far as I understand right now, it started with an email where somebody created a fake email that looked like an official email.”

“… Allegedly, a staff member of ours thought that they were conversing with an official person from another trusted organization,” he explained. “And apparently that wasn’t the case.”

The trusted organization was the Washington Municipal Clerks Association. The person had said they were having a 50th anniversary and asked Tenino to loan them $23,000 for the celebration.

“That is the story that we have been told,” Fournier said. “I don’t know what is going to come out of this a year from now. But the official story as far as we understand it right now is a fake representative from the Washington Municipal Clerks Association contacted the city, said that, ‘hey, you know, this year — we rotate around cities — and this year our partners [would] like to work with the city of Tenino.’ They’re talking with a staff member who seemed flattered that this organization would trust them enough with this detail.”

The loan was presented to the council and approved.

So, Dori asked, it was thought to be a $23,000 loan that would be reimbursed, but then how did the city lose $270,000?

“That mystery is still being worked out,” Fournier said.

“The way I understand it was just, it was approved to allow the clerks, what was thought to be the clerks association, to use $23,000 as, like a fund to assist with this thing,” he said. “And, you know, that in itself is not a big deal. The money went out and then the staff member was told the money was on the way back.”

“At the time this was going on, that was as much knowledge as the city had, was that that money was loaned out,” he added.

A Tenino city employee recently resigned, but Fournier said he can’t speak to whether there’s any suspicion that person was in on the scam. He added later that the employee’s resignation letter was regarding something else.

The Tenino resident who alerted Dori of this situation said that the city also brought in a new IT provider and bought cyber fraud insurance in 2019 before this scam. Does Fournier believe that all of those things are linked and connected?

“No,” he replied. “The new IT provider thing is, that’s just standard, … we weren’t happy with the previous one for quite some time. We were looking for different services and and we got a better deal and a better service.”

As for the extra insurance, Fournier’s understanding is that the city’s insurance provider was offering a new policy and the council agreed it was interested in participating.

“That was the beginning of the year,” he clarified. “And then this attack, this hack, or scam, or whatever it is, occurred four or five months after that. Are they related? That’s not for me to speculate. That is a rock that the FBI would need to turn over.”

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Fournier admits it’s a good question of how this happened, how fraudsters were able to get more than a quarter million dollars, adding that the city has since addressed a lot of these related issues.

“But as technology changes and, you know, things become available, it’s a constant battle to keep up with the new technology, new services, and improving practices. And then also, you can have the greatest policies in the world, but the practitioners have to follow them,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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Tenino mayor says city was scammed out of $270,000 last year