Washington County Jail clerk appealing her firing over alleged misuse of inmate funds

Robert Gross (right), the Washington County jail administrator, and Karina Richardson, the jail'’s clerk, listen to testimony Thursday afternoon during a hearing before the Washington County commissioners.
Robert Gross (right), the Washington County jail administrator, and Karina Richardson, the jail'’s clerk, listen to testimony Thursday afternoon during a hearing before the Washington County commissioners.
Posted March 07, 2013, at 10:24 a.m.
Last modified March 07, 2013, at 7:25 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Karina Richardson wants her job back.

The longtime clerk of the Washington County Jail was suspended last December by Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith, who accused Richardson of misappropriating funds from the jail’s inmate benefit fund for purchases that benefited her personally.

During a five-hour hearing in January during which she denied Smith’s allegations, the Washington County commissioners fired Richardson.

At that time, Richardson, 50, told reporters that she would not appeal her termination. Nonetheless, the county was subsequently notified by a Massachusetts-based law firm representing the National Correctional Employees Union that Richardson is appealing her firing.

The notice of appeal claims Richardson was terminated “without just cause and otherwise in contravention of [Richardson’s] collective bargaining agreement.” Richardson’s attorney for the appeal, Kristine Hanly of Springfield, Mass., indicated in the notice that Richardson is seeking “reinstatement with no loss of pay or benefits.”

A lawyer affiliated with the National Correctional Employees Union arrived at Richardson’s hearing in Machias in January, offering to represent her in the proceeding. But Richardson declined that offer, opting instead for representation by local attorney Jeffrey Davidson.

Efforts Thursday to reach the union-affiliated attorney who filed the appeal notice were unsuccessful. In fact, a partner of the legal firm that Hanly listed as her affiliate firm in Springfield, Mass., didn’t seem to know her at all.

When contacted by phone Thursday, Richardson deferred all questions to Davidson, who did not immediately respond to a phone inquiry about Richardson’s current legal situation. Richardson said Davidson would be representing her in her appeal. A call to Washington County’s Bangor-based legal counsel, Tim Pease, was not immediately returned.

According to testimony by an investigator hired by the county, the purchases in question included an expensive cellphone, monthly payments on cell phone bills, a laptop computer and an array of clothing. Clothing purchases cited in the hearing ranged from a formal dress to bras and lingerie, including a Christmas-themed “Santa Baby” plunge bra ensemble.

Smith suspended Richardson and her boss, Jail Administrator Robert Gross, 62, in December after accusing both of personally benefiting from funds misappropriated from the jail’s inmate benefits account, That account, which usually has a balance of $40,000-$60,000, collects and disburses funds deposited by jail inmates or by others on their behalf to purchase telephone time, cable TV services, snacks, stationery, stamps and other approved commissary items.

Expenditures are supposed to directly benefit inmates of the 48-bed jail, and Gross had lead discretion as to how to tap into the fund. Sheriff Smith also is a legal signatory. A month after he was suspended, Gross resigned.

“I didn’t do anything that wasn’t authorized by my supervisor,” Richardson said in her testimony. “I didn’t sign checks, and I’m not the one who is in the position to make those types of decisions all by myself. I believe everything that I’ve done I had permission to do.”

At the request of the county commissioners, the investigative division of the Office of the Maine Attorney General is conducting an independent probe of the use and alleged abuse of the inmate benefit fund at the Washington County Jail. AG investigators have requested documents associated with the inmate benefit account, including check registers.

Management of the inmate benefit fund is now being overseen by the office of the county treasurer.

Richardson said after her termination hearing that she was upset by the media’s focus on her bra selections, which she claimed depicted her as a “whore.”

“My reputation has been ruined over a bra,” she said.

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