Man sentenced in charity theft case

by: Richard Thompson Updated:

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Joe Searles pleaded guilty to theft Thursday. Prosecutors said he ran raffles to raise money for the Autism Society of Washington but failed to turn over about $200K to the charity. "It was pretty clear in the state's mind this was a case of theft," said Deputy Prosecutor Joe Wheeler.

Searles attorney Sax Rodgers said his client took the plea deal so charges against his wife Rena would be dropped, and he said Searles didn't knowingly do anything wrong. "He didn't intend to steal any money," said Rodgers.

Prosecutors told the judge there's no way to get the $200K back from Searles because his house is now in foreclosure and all the cash is gone. Deputy Prosecutor Joe Wheeler told the judge, "There's no lump of cash out there that we can get." Under the plea agreement prosecutors still recommended Searles pay $5,000 in restitution and spend 90 days under house arrest. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy followed the recommendation and told Searles there was no excuse for his actions. "These are crimes that hurt people and hurt our community," Judge Murphy told Searles.

South Sound reporter Richard Thompson caught up with Searles as he was leaving the courthouse and asked for his side of the story. Mr. Searles slammed his car door and drove away.

The judge has ordered Searles to begin serving his three months of house arrest within the next two weeks.