KOMO 4 News, komonews.com
BYLINE: KOMO Staff & News Services
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Paul Watkins is seen during an interview in this May 23, 2005, file photo.
LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- Lynnwood Police Chief Steven Jensen said he has fired Deputy Chief Paul C. Watkins, who recently pleaded guilty to stealing money from the department's evidence room.
In a statement, Jensen said the 50-year-old Watkins' termination stemmed from the theft of money seized by Lynnwood police officers from 2001 through 2005. Federal prosecutors say Watkins stole between $70,000 and $120,000.
Jensen said Watkins acted alone and the city of Lynnwood will seek to recover the stolen money.
The Everett man faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he's sentenced Feb. 22 in federal court.
Watkins had been under investigation for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars in cash, drugs and guns from the police evidence locker while he served as the commander of the Lynnwood Investigations Division from July 2001 through March 2004.
According to the plea agreement, Watkins admitted that he stole more than $5,000 over the course of several years. United States Attorney's Office spokeswoman Colleen Bernier said prosecutors will argue at a sentencing hearing that Watkins actually stole as much as $120,000.
Search warrant documents filed last month state that Watkins, who has a history of bad credit and bankruptcy applications, was suspected of stealing cash by signing for the items at a courthouse and never logging them into evidence at the department's evidence lockers.
Prosecutors said Watkins' role at the time of the thefts adds weight to the crime.
"When that crime involves public funds, it is especially serious and in these cases made even more egregious, because the individual who committed that crime was a public official who was entrusted by the public to enforce our laws," said Mark Bartlett with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Investigators found that Watkins officer made questionable cash deposits to his personal account on the same day he received money seized from crime scenes.
On October 19, FBI investigators filed a search warrant seeking to search the officer's home, and officials with the U.S. Attorney's say Watkins may have destroyed records related to the theft just hours before the search. Watkins may have been tipped off, Bartlett said, but what he didn't know was that he was under surveillance.
"That night they observed him leave his house carrying a number of large plastic garbage bags and followed him going around Lynnwood, as he went to various public dumpsters and dumped this shredded material into the dumpsters," he said.
Court documents indicate that Watkins also allegedly signed out large quantities of seized cash from an evidence locker in violation of the police department's policies, and much of the money remains unaccounted for.
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