"Bank, City Officials Testify About Hansen -- Two Say She Told Them Charges Were Mistake"

DAVID ALLEN, attorney
Thelma Hansen, defendant

Seattle Times

By Diane Brooks

EVERETT - City Councilwoman Thelma "Jean" Hansen is to take the stand this afternoon, a day after jurors heard testimony from Everett and bank officials intended to help them fathom the legalities of gambling with money drawn from a city credit card.

Two witnesses yesterday testified that Hansen last year said her casino charges were mistakes. On Monday, defense attorney David Allen told jurors the Everett councilwoman intentionally used a city Visa at casinos because she thought it was allowable as long as she repaid the money.

Hansen is being tried in Snohomish County Superior Court on a charge of first-degree theft for obtaining nine cash advances totaling $4,800 from three casinos in Arizona and Nevada in December 1995 and February 1996. She also used the city Visa in late February 1996 to obtain $150 at a California casino but she hasn't been charged for that incident.

In each of those cases, she later paid for her personal charges. Following standard city procedures, Hansen made her checks out to Visa and gave them to the city, which then gave them to the bank.

Allen maintains that because Hansen's name appears on the card and she signed the back of it, her charges are personal debts to Frontier Bank, which issues the city's Visa cards.

This is no different, he says, than past practices of other Everett council members who put personal charges on their city cards and then repaid them.

Allen yesterday highlighted examples of personal use of the cards, topped by a $1,103 charge made by then-Councilman Carl Gipson in September 1994 at Embassy Suites Hotel in Lynnwood.

When contacted later, Gipson said he accidentally handed his wife the wrong credit card to pay for a party they hosted at the hotel.

He noticed the mistake when the party ended and tried to get the hotel to switch the charge to a different card, he said, but it was too late.

Deputy Prosecutor Kathleen Patterson must convince jurors that Frontier Bank's contract with Everett makes the city solely responsible for debts accrued with city Visa cards.

If the cards are issued only on Everett's credit, and Frontier Bank would not hold Hansen personally liable for her charges, then the councilwoman was in essence gambling with city money, which is illegal.

Frontier Bank loan officer Janet Keefe yesterday said Frontier doesn't run credit reports on individual council members before issuing them city credit cards. The cards are mailed to the city treasurer, she said.

"Our customer is the city of Everett," not the individual cardholder, she said.

However, neither attorney directly questioned Keefe about whether the bank would hold Hansen responsible for her personal charges.

Other testimony included:

-- Everett City Clerk Donna Rider said Hansen "was upset" when she reported her first set of gambling charges. "She (said) she had made an error and put a personal expense on her credit card," and had just discovered her mistake the previous night, Rider said. "She said she had bought a totem pole."

When more casino cash-advances turned up two months later, Rider said, Hansen again told her "it was a mistake."

-- Roberta Hanson, secretary for the Everett City Council, put into evidence Hansen's Visa, which has been in her safekeeping since March 1996. She recalled that after Hansen's second batch of casino charges turned up, she repeatedly asked Hansen to write a payment check before flying to Washington, D.C., for a city-related conference.

When the councilwoman flew away without first paying, taking the original copy of the Visa bill with her, Hanson said she called her in Washington.

Hansen "was very upset" about how much trouble she was causing, the council secretary said. "She was crying, very apologetic, very concerned." She paid her Visa charges as soon as she returned, Hanson said.

-- Washington State Patrol Detective Christopher Rankin, who investigated the case, described his June 1996 interview with Hansen. Hansen spoke very little, instead allowing her counsel to answer questions on her behalf.

Hansen told him that while gambling in both Arizona and Nevada she'd left her city Visa and her driver's license with a casino cashier.

At various times she would signal the cashier's cage, "and more money would be brought to her," he said.

"At the conclusion, she signed individual receipts" for each batch of chips she'd received, he said.

Employees from two casinos are to testify today. According to court papers, casino officials have told Rankin that cashiers never hold onto customers' credit cards.

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