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Linn County dispatcher of year accused of stealing $20,000 from agency

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Linn County Sheriff’s dispatcher of the year for 2020 is suspected of stealing thousands of dollars from the law enforcement agency over the course of three years.

Tara Ann Trudell, 34, is accused of seven counts of first-degree theft. 

Meanwhile, via motions filed with the court, her defense attorney is implying she may not be the only one, just the only one being prosecuted. He's demanding personnel records of other Sheriff's Office employees, including the sheriff herself.

Court documents allege Trudell stole at least $11,000 from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office between Jan. 27, 2019, and March 13.

The actual total is nearly double that, Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan said.

“Earlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an employee may have taken a large amount of paid leave time over a three-year period and purposely did not submit the proper documentation to have it removed from her time banks,” Duncan said by email.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case, which found "the amount of time alleged to have been improperly taken is approximately 670 hours of leave time,” Duncan wrote.

That number of hours is equal, Duncan said, to about $20,195 of paid time off that was not deducted.

Trudell was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation which is ongoing, according to Duncan.

According to a March 12, 2021, Facebook post from the Linn County Sheriff's Office, Trudell was the agency’s 2020 dispatch employee of the year.

“With her hard work and dedication, Tara brings the best of her to work every day," the post says. "The Sheriff's Office is lucky to have her and she gives her best to the citizens of Linn County!”

Trudell was arraigned in Linn County Circuit Court on April 13 on seven counts of first-degree theft, but she has another arraignment scheduled for May 23, according to Oregon’s online court database.

Portland-based attorney Daniel Thenell is representing Trudell. Prosecutor Douglas Prince is representing the state.

There is also an open case regarding Trudell with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. According to that agency's website, the case was opened April 27 and is under review. The reason for the case is listed as “arrest/criminal disposition.”

Thenell's court filings suggest that there may be similar cases within the Linn County Sheriff's Office. 

In a motion filed with the court Thursday, May 5, the defense asked the court to authorize a pretrial subpoena for documents to be produced before trial from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. They include copies of time sheets for other LCSO employees, including Duncan herself, former dispatcher Ann Otto who died in 2018, Undersheriff Micah Smith and Capt. Dave Snippen.

Other requested documents include revisions to those time sheets — described as "audit trails showing changes" — relevant emails and other documentation involving alleged time sheet inaccuracies from 2013 to the present. 

A second motion filed defense filed with the court on Thursday requested all documents, reports, email decisions, probable cause affidavits and case dispositions regarding an alleged Albany Police Department investigation of Snippen.

In a response to the motions, Prince filed on Friday an objection to the subpoenas without explanation. 

"Myself, Micah Smith and Dave Snippen have all been employees throughout our careers that were so dedicated to this office and our community we often lost our own vacation time because there was work to be done," Duncan said in an email. "When you go over the maximum amount of accrual, you lose it. This has happened more than once to all three of us."

Duncan said she believes the motions were filed in an attempt to "smear" the agency's reputation.

"When the issue arose regarding Trudell, we conducted a check of all employees, and her records were the only ones that were suspicious," Duncan said in the email. "This is why I requested the outside agency to investigate her and her alone."

Trudell’s next court appearance in the matter is scheduled for May 23.

Maddie Pfeifer covers public safety for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or Madison.Pfeifer@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @maddiepfeifer_

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Maddie Pfeifer is the public safety/crime and courts reporter for Mid-Valley Media. She has a bachelor's degree in communication studies from the University of Portland. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies and spending time outdoors.

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