A former Lewis County Corrections Bureau employee accused of stealing over $10,000 from the department while she was employed there between 2019 and 2020 pleaded not guilty to 84 separate felony charges in Lewis County Superior Court on Thursday.
The former employee, Jennifer Teitzel, 52, of Chehalis, allegedly created false refunds for prior inmates and issued the refunds to debit cards she created using stolen names, according to court documents.
Teitzel allegedly created 23 different credit cards using the identities of 12 different people between June 5, 2019, and July 31, 2020.
Teitzel allegedly issued each card a “refund” in amounts ranging from $150 to $877, for a total of $10,478.17 stolen between 2019 and 2020.
Court documents indicate most of the cards were only used once, at a bank, shortly after the card was created. A couple cards also showed transactions at fast food restaurants.
The latest transaction on one of the fraudulent cards is dated Aug. 1, 2020, according to court documents.
Teitzel left the Lewis County Corrections Bureau that same month to become director of the Lewis County Animal Shelter, a position she held until Lewis County fired her in February 2022.
The investigation into the theft began in June 2022 after support staff with Lewis County Corrections noticed “suspicious transactions” in the bureau’s inmate program fund, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office then asked the Washington State Patrol to conduct an investigation, which culminated in the state patrol referring first-degree theft and identity theft charges against Teitzel to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office on March 8.
When questioned about the theft during Washington State Patrol’s investigation, Teitzel allegedly “admitted to creating the false refunds” and “admitted what she was doing was wrong, but got in over her head and made poor choices,” according to court documents.
The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office filed a total of 84 charges — one count of first-degree theft, 30 counts of unlawful factoring of transactions and 53 counts of first- or second-degree identity theft — against Teitzel on March 22.
She was issued a summons notice the next day, March 23, for a March 30 preliminary hearing in Lewis County Superior Court, which she was present for.
First-degree theft, first-degree identity theft and unlawful factoring of transactions are class B felonies carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison each.
Second-degree identity theft is a class C felony carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.
Minimum penalties differ for each defendant based on their criminal history.
Because Teitzel has no criminal history and responded to her court summons, all parties agreed Thursday to let Teitzel remain out of custody on her own personal recognizance for the duration of her case.
Her trial is scheduled to begin June 12, with a trial confirmation hearing scheduled for June 8.
Teitzel is also the subject of an unrelated, ongoing $2.1 million lawsuit filed by four former Lewis County Animal Shelter employees in October 2021.
Those employees allege Teitzel misappropriated donations, asked staff to falsify medical records, created a hostile work environment and put animals and the public in danger during her time as shelter director.
The four whistleblowers first made public allegations against Teitzel in June 2021.
The county’s own investigation into the claims resulted in no findings of wrongdoing, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
When asked by The Chronicle about what led to Teitzel’s departure in February 2022, then-Lewis County Public Health & Social Services Director JP Anderson said, “We just decided to go in a different direction,” according to previous Chronicle reporting.