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Tearful former city official gets 4 months in prison

Juli Howard, who pocketed thousands of dollars in public funds when she was assistant city recorder for Milwaukie, was sentenced on Tuesday to 120 days in prison to be followed by 24 months of probation.

by: CCSO - Juli HowardAs part of her guilty plea, Howard, 40, had to pay back the $14,819 that she laundered from citizens who had designated cash to settle their Milwaukie Municipal Court fines. She’ll also pay a $500 fine to the court.

“I don’t know how anyone could do anything like this,” said Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Eva L. Miller on June 18.

In her courtroom statements, Howard denied that she had stolen the funds to pay for gambling debts, but didn’t elaborate on the reason she had been behind in payments. She said she had “got into a situation” where she was in debt and didn’t want to tell her husband.

In stealing the funds from Milwaukie, she said she had initially thought she would pay the city back. At least nine 'irregular' transactions between May 25, 2011, and April 25, 2012, led to her Feb. 13 arrest.

“I wish more than anything I could go back in time and make a different choice, but I can’t,” she told the judge amid sobbing speech.

In Howard’s prepared statement, she apologized to her “former boss, co-workers and the citizens of Milwaukie” for the embarrassment a mistrust she brought upon her city, school district and family. She thanked Milwaukie detectives for waiting to arrest her until her children were at school, and thanked district attorneys for delaying her sentencing until after her daughter’s eighth-grade graduation.

“Now my kids are going to have to be without me for the summer,” Howard said.

Judge Miller expressed confidence in the first-time offender’s ability to successfully complete probation, noting that children can gain an important lesson from seeing that their parents can make mistakes and pay the price for them.

“It does appear that you have the right attitude and that we won’t be seeing you back here again,” Miller said.

A shortage of public funds was first discovered when two men each paid Howard $200 for Milwaukie court citations on May 25, 2011. Howard then transferred payment from the one who paid his $200 fine with a credit card to the one who paid his $200 in cash after an account’s funds “must have been applied in error,” according to an April 10, 2012, memorandum.

The discrepancy wasn’t discovered until almost a year later because the first man had to come back to the Milwaukie Municipal Court to complain after the DMV suspended his license. He showed a stamped receipt from Howard for the $200 in cash that he had paid, but the funds hadn’t been applied to his fine.

Such details emerged in court documents that prompted now-retired Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Steven L. Maurer on Aug. 16 to issue several search warrants at Milwaukie City Hall, Howard's home and her 2005 Honda Pilot SUV. The April 10 memorandum had compelled Assistant Finance Director Rita Byrne to investigate later possible “irregularities” before turning the case over to the Milwaukie Police Department.

Barred from handling cash

Longtime Milwaukie residents with kids involved in area schools and youth sports programs were concerned about volunteer boards of nonprofit entities where Howard had access to funds. From the beginning of the investigation in August to the week of her arrest, Howard remained a board officer for several local nonprofits, including vice president of the Rowe Middle School PTA. Milwaukie’s Police Department, which immediately coordinated its investigation with the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office, said it found no evidence that Howard stole any other funds outside of the city of Milwaukie.

In an emergency meeting on Feb. 13, an interim was named to replace Howard as treasurer/secretary of Milwaukie Youth Soccer Club, where she has been involved for a decade. Milwaukie Junior Baseball Association’s Board of Directors also accepted the resignation of Howard as registrar and picture coordinator in February.

Board members who had worked closely with Howard said they were surprised by Howard’s arrest and didn’t see any suspicious activity. Fellow board members, who saw her as scrupulous and frequently heard her speak out to encourage adherence to rules, generally trusted Howard.

Nonprofit leaders at the time of her arrest expressed confidence in their organizations' safeguards and assured the public that no funds had gone missing from local school groups. As part of Howard’s sentencing, Judge Miller mandated that Howard can no longer handle financial transactions as part of her job or volunteer work. Howard lamented that she would probably have trouble even getting another job when she is released from jail.