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City cheat pleads guilty

'She took the money, and she is very remorseful. Every time I visit her she cries.' - Whitney Boise,Magkamit's defense attorney
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, Elma Sandoval Magkamit
Admits embezzled $1.4 million

Before the Clackamas County Circuit Court judge entered the courtroom Friday, Defense Attorney Whitney Boise tried to talk to his client, Elma Sandoval Magkamit, the former finance director for the city of West Linn.

'She could barely speak,' Boise said. 'I think she was scared to death.'

At that moment, Magkamit knew she was about to confess publicly that she stole more than $1.4 million from the city.

For that act, she faced 57 felony counts of theft and aggravated theft (her attorney had an additional 57 counts of forgery dismissed). The charges carried a total maximum sentence of 545 years in prison.

Magkamit sat in the jury box, showing no emotion. She was wearing street clothing, and her hands and feet were bound in chains.

A female friend signaled Magkamit from the back of the courtroom, drawing a heart in the air and placing her palms together as if in prayer.

The 53-year-old woman has been in custody since her arrest in April - seven months after she was fired from her employment with the city in the fall of 2005.

When Judge Eve L. Miller arrived, she read each of the 57 felony counts separately, and asked Magkamit on each charge if she wanted to plead guilty.

Magkamit began a litany of answers with the words, 'Yes, your honor.'

By the time the judge reached charge No. 27, Magkamit was answering each with a quiet 'yes.'

She says she tried to stop

The guilty pleas are one of the final steps in what Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Michael Regan, the prosecuting attorney, called the worst case of public corruption in Oregon's history.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court April 27, Magkamit, promoted in 2001 as West Linn's finance director, spent four years and seven months writing checks from the city's coffers to a bogus consulting company called Magkamit Consulting. Most of the checks also were made out to her husband, Larry Magkamit, but he has denied knowledge of his wife's illegal activities.

She wrote 57 checks, ranging from $4,780 to $38,922.90 a piece.

She dipped into city funds as often as 17 times in one year. One month's withdrawals totaled $90,767.

Magkamit deposited the checks into several bank accounts, and used the money to gamble.

Boise said she believed she had a connection to certain machines and knew which ones were about to pay off.

'That speaks volumes to her (gambling) addiction and illness,' he said.

Magkamit told West Linn Police Lt. Vic Lancaster that she tried to stop but could not.

The search warrant also said Magkamit told investigators that she did not tell her husband about stealing the money until April 19, immediately after West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus and Department of Justice Investigator Heidi Bowen interviewed her.

Regan, said her husband likely will not be charged with any crime.

'We have not determined that there is any way to prove that Larry knew that she was taking this money,' Regan said.

Boise said Magkamit is sorry for what she did.

'She took the money, and she is very remorseful,' he said. 'Every time I visit her, she cries.'

City wants its money back

West Linn City Manager Chris Jordan, positioned during Friday's judicial hearing just to the right of Magkamit's husband and four of her friends, listened from the back of the standing-room-only courtroom to the 11-minute reading of criminal charges.

Jordan said he is focused on gaining restitution for the city.

'The total amount of the embezzlement is a little over $1.4 million, but the total cost associated with the embezzlement is close to $2 million when you add in all of the costs of her severance package, investigation, consultants, forensic auditors and additional finance department assistance,' Jordan said.

'We want to be sure that we get every last dime returned to the city.'

The city's attorney is pursuing a civil case against Magkamit to gain assets from her home, car and PERS account, Jordan said. During Friday's plea hearing, Regan watched Magkamit as she responded to each charge in the way he said he expected.

'I assumed that the investigation was so thorough and the paper trail so clear that it was inevitable that a reasonable person couldn't deny (the thefts),' Regan said.

Regan said he was pleased with the plea agreement and the outcome of Friday's court proceedings.

'I'm satisfied that she has accepted responsibility,' he said. 'Now we're on to step two, wherein we're going to ask the court to punish her appropriately.'

Magkamit's sentencing is set Nov. 17 at 1:30 p.m. It will be before a different judge, as Miller recused herself, citing her West Linn residence and previous work at the same firm as Boise.

Magkamit is being held without bail.