Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Plot thickens in Ravalli County treasurer fiasco

Posted By on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Ravalli County Treasurer Valerie Stamey was expected to give county commissioners an update on Jan. 21 on the disarray that has characterized her office. Instead Stamey read from a prepared statement leveling allegations of corruption against commissioners J.R. Iman and Greg Chilcott as well as three former treasurer’s office employees. “What you see in the papers is an orchestrated and vile campaign to destroy my character,” Stamey said, adding that she is requesting “a full investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation” into her accusations.

“I have done nothing illegal,” she said. “It is time to leave my personal life alone. I am not a criminal, and I will not be treated as one.”

Stamey left the county conference room immediately after reading her statement, which did not address the current status of her office nor recent news about past legal troubles.

The latest revelation about Stamey’s backstory came Jan. 15 when the Bitterroot Star published a story based on legal documents from the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Greenville County, S.C. According to those records, Stamey was sued alongside Discover Financial Services in 2010 by Sheriff Law Firm. The firm claimed it had given Stamey—who then went by her maiden name Addis—an $18,149 check made payable to Discover after she refinanced her home in late 2006. Stamey proceeded to “phone pay” Discover the full amount using the law firm’s account information. She then mailed the check and the payment was duplicated, again from the law firm’s account.

In April 2007, Discover reimbursed Stamey $14,721.60. Court records show she made a partial payment of $750 to Sheriff Law Firm in February 2008. “After this payment, no further payment or attempt to pay has been initiated by either Discover or Addis,” the suit states.

A separate legal proceeding that’s so far escaped media attention shows that in November 2007, Stamey filed an $80,000 mortgage on the same home she’d refinanced in 2006. Court records state Stamey failed to meet the stipulations of the mortgage agreement and, in November 2008, a Greenville County judge ordered the property foreclosed. The judge further ruled that Stamey owed Chase Home Finance $87,098.69 for the remaining mortgage principal, interest and attorney’s fees, and that the property be sold at public auction.

At the time she filed the mortgage, Stamey—who did not return calls to her office or home phone—had already relocated to Montana and was four months into her job as food services director for Missoula County Public Schools. According to MCPS, she held that job until she resigned March 18, 2011.

Stamey was first considered for Ravalli County treasurer that same month. The commission instead appointed Chief Deputy Treasurer Marie Keeton, who Stamey then unsuccessfully challenged in the 2012 Republican primary. Keeton resigned last fall, and Stamey was appointed on a 3-2 vote.

According to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices office, Stamey failed to file a financial disclosure report for her 2012 campaign despite having raised and spent over $500. When the issue came to the attention of the state office last fall, Stamey was asked to furnish a complete disclosure form. That request was made on Nov. 12, but the office says it has not heard from Stamey since.

Stamey filed for reelection this month and could now be fined close to $1,500 for past noncompliance.

Support for Stamey’s appointment last fall came largely from members of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee, where she serves as a precinct captain. Emails sent to the commission from various committee officers last September touted Stamey’s “upbeat personality for managing and inspiring the workforce” and her nature as “a good listener.” One committee member did voice skepticism that Stamey’s involvement with the committee appeared to be “for political gain,” calling her a precinct captain “in name only.” But the committee itself endorsed her as the top candidate, citing her “33 years of experience in government fund accounting, management and administration” and her “long term goals for herself in this position.”

Linda Isaacs, the treasurer’s office employee passed over for Stamey, worked as deputy county treasurer in Lake County for five years and came highly recommended by retired Lake County Treasurer Pat Cook-Hutchin and current treasurer Patti Duford Kugler. The latter even wrote that she would “take [Isaacs] back in a heartbeat.” Isaacs resigned in October, and the office has since lost two more employees, including former Ravalli County Treasurer JoAnne Johnson, who lost her 2010 reelection bid to Republican Mary Hudson-Smith. Hudson-Smith resigned after just six weeks amid a controversy similar to the one surrounding Stamey now.

Despite the ongoing fiasco, Stamey has earned praise for her past work in Montana. The Montana Food Bank Network’s Food Security Council approached Stamey in 2010 with a request that MCPS launch a BackPack program, a new initiative at the time to help identify chronically hungry students and send them home each weekend with bags containing three meals.

“Valerie was enthusiastic about starting the program,” says Kate Devino, chief policy officer for MFBN. “And she worked with our former coordinator to roll the program out at several MCPS elementary schools.”

Devino says Stamey also helped expand MFBN’s Universal Breakfast in the Classroom initiative in Missoula. According to the minutes from an April 13, 2010, meeting of the MCPS Board of Trustees, First Lady Nancy Schweitzer presented Stamey with an award for her work with the BackPack program during a ceremony at the State Capitol in Helena.

Stamey’s abrupt departure from the county conference room Jan. 21 generated a brief, stunned silence. Officials and citizens alike had packed the space—standing room only—under the belief that Stamey would provide answers. What they got were more accusations. In the ensuing vacuum, JoAnne Johnson’s sister, LaVonne Miller, stepped forward to offer the first in yet another wave of rebuttals. “Whatever Val’s trying to pull out of the slums,” Miller said, “is not true.”

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