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Former Ravalli County treasurer Valerie Stamey.

PERRY BACKUS/Ravalli Republic

HAMILTON – Ravalli County treasurer Valerie Stamey will be required to tell the county commissioners her side of the story on allegations that she cheated a South Carolina law firm in 2006.

On Friday, Stamey was presented with a letter from Ravalli County Commission Chair Greg Chilcott requesting a written explanation about allegations detailed in a 2010 default judgment filed against her.

Chilcott said the letter must be available to both the commissioners and the public by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21.

Chilcott’s letter said the commission will meet Thursday, Jan. 23, at 11 a.m. to consider Stamey’s involvement in matters detailed in the lawsuit.

“The allegations in the suit, to which, apparently, you did not respond, raise concerns for a person holding a position of public trust,” Chilcott wrote.

The letter was hand delivered to Stamey by the county’s human resources director, Robert Jenni.

Stamey did not return a phone call to the Ravalli Republic for comment Friday.

The county treasurer faced a default judgment in a 2010 Greenville, S.C., civil case that alleged she cashed an $18,149 check twice after receiving it from a law firm involved in refinancing her home.

Information on the default judgment caught members of the Ravalli County commission by surprise earlier this week.

“It was absolutely a surprise,” Chilcott said Friday before penning the letter. “This had never come up before. ... It’s become a huge distraction to the county, especially the treasurer’s office and board of commissioners and all our staff.”

Revelations about the lawsuit followed a tumultuous meeting Monday that brought officials from county schools, towns and fire districts to the courthouse to complain about a backlog of tax disbursements and financial reports.

Since she was appointed in September to fill out the term of the previous treasurer, Stamey’s office has lost three of its most experienced employees and fallen months behind in keeping the county’s books.

Her latest challenge centered on a default judgment filed in 2010 that said Stamey – who then used the name Addis – owed more than $17,000 after she allegedly cashed a check twice.

The judgment said the initial check was provided to her by a South Carolina law firm after she refinanced her home. The check was made payable to Discover Financial Services and mailed to her from the law firm’s account.

Instead of mailing the check to Discover, Stamey paid by phone using the law firm’s account information listed on the check to pay off debt.

After doing that, she also mailed the paper check to Discover, which resulted in a double payment being cashed against the law firm’s account.

The law firm sued both Addis, aka Stamey, and Discover.

Stamey did not offer any information about the lawsuit to the Ravalli County commission when being interviewed for the treasurer’s position last fall.

Since the lawsuit was settled in a default judgment, there was no evidentiary hearing, Chilcott said. The allegations were made part of the decision.

“As a matter of due process, we would like to hear from Valerie,” Chilcott said. “We want to hear her side of the complaint and have a full understanding of that before we explore our options.”

“At this point, in the absence of any information from Valerie, there are a lot of assumptions being made,” he said. “It is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to know more about.”

Commissioner J.R. Iman said the county has to proceed carefully in addressing this issue.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Iman said. “We will have to do some discovery as a board. ... It has to be very deliberate.”

The incident will bring changes in the county’s hiring process, Jenni said.

In addition to criminal background checks, the county will now do complete financial checks on anyone hired in positions with a fiduciary responsibility or as department heads, he said.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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Northwest Montana Reporter

Northwest Montana Reporter at the Missoulian