A former executive director for the bus system in Clatsop County is facing 10 felony counts of first-degree theft for her role in an alleged scheme that the district attorney said allowed her to take free cruises four years in a row.
Cynthia Howe, who left the Sunset Empire Transit District in January 2011 after 15 years there, was arraigned Monday in Clatsop County Circuit Court in Astoria. In addition to theft, she is charged with four counts of misdemeanor official misconduct.
District Attorney Josh Marquis told the court at Howe's arraignment that she is accused of accepting free cruises valued at roughly $2,000 to $4,000 each in exchange for the transit agency buying large amounts of radio advertising at a local radio station.
The other felony counts came from Howe giving several thousand dollars in bus services to the former Star of the Sea School, which is associated with St. Mary's Catholic Church. That's where Howe had been a volunteer at the church and where her child attended school.
Marquis said public employees do not get to choose where they donate public services beyond the amount allowed by the transit agency's board of directors.
A special investigator from the Oregon Attorney General's Office has been working on Howe's case for more than year, gathering documents and statements from former board members and employees.
In 2011, the Sunset Empire Transit District laid off more than half of its employees, citing massive funding problems. Marquis said the vast majority of the financial problems were not the subject of the year-long criminal investigation.
For now, Howe has been released on a conditional release agreement, in which she promises to re-appear in court on July 11.
Copyright 2012 KPTV (Meredith Corporation.) All rights reserved.
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