Bainbridge Island Resident Sentenced to Prison for Embezzling Nearly $150,000 from Suquamish Tribe
Stole Checks And Grocery Gift Cards Intended For Needy Families
A 46-year-old Bainbridge Island woman who worked for the Suquamish Tribe in Kitsap County, was sentenced today in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release for embezzling from a tribal entity, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. RENEE PEARL PELETI worked in the Suquamish Indian Tribe’s Indian Child Welfare Department for more than five years. Over that time she embezzled more than $146,496 from the tribe using fraudulent checks, vouchers and gift cards for groceries, and checks written for her own utility payments. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan imposed $146,496 in restitution.
According to records filed in the case, the Suquamish Tribe became aware in April 2013, that benefit checks for seven clients of the Indian Child Welfare Department had been altered and cashed. The investigation revealed that PELETI, who was an Administrative Assistant in the Indian Child Welfare Department, had engaged in a lengthy embezzlement scheme. PELETI caused more than 260 fraudulent tribal checks totaling more than $90,000, to be written in the names of others which she then cashed and used for her own bills. PELETI caused 14 tribal checks to be written to Puget Sound Energy to pay more than $2,800 of her own utility bills. PELETI issued more than 125 Albertsons food vouchers that she then cashed and used for more than $36,972 in groceries for her own use. Finally, PELETI embezzled multiple vendor gift cards worth more than $11,127.
PELETI, who is a member of the Nooksack Tribe, said she took the money to pay for her own family expenses. PELETI pleaded guilty on February 14, 2014.
Tribal leaders spoke at the sentencing hearing, telling the court that the embezzlement meant that needy tribal children were denied money for food, clothing, sports equipment, or Christmas presents. The speakers noted that because of the theft, these vulnerable children had missed opportunities for fun or education that would not come again.
The case was investigated by the Suquamish Police and the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney J. Tate London.