Charge: Lakewood cop stole from Fallen Officers' Fund

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Police have arrested a Lakewood police officer accused of embezzling more than $120,000 from a fund intended to benefit the families of four Lakewood officers killed in the line of duty.

Skeeter T. Manos, 34, of Dupont has been charged with 10 federal felonies for allegedly embezzling from the fund while serving as the treasurer of the Lakewood Police Independent Guild.

Manos was arrested on Wednesday morning, and was released after his court hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

Federal investigators said Manos set up a secret bank account under the guild's name and funneled approximately $151,000 in funds intended for the families of fallen officers. He used some $120,000 from the account for "his personal use and pleasure," the complaint said, namely to make purchases at several stores including Costco, Home Depot and REI, buy plane tickets to Las Vegas, and make cash withdrawals at several casinos, both in Las Vegas and in Washington state.

The allegedly embezzled funds were a part of the $3.2 million contributed for the benefit of the families of Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards who were gunned down at a coffee shop.

In the weeks following the fatal shooting, Manos posted a note on the guild's website expressing his gratitude to the public for the outpouring of support.

"Words alone cannot begin to describe how much donating means to not only the fallen officer's families, but to each and every Lakewood Officer. The comments that are sent along with each donation are personally read by me. Many times I have had to stop and recompose myself, because of the overwhelming support and compassion displayed by the generous community supporting us during this difficult period," he wrote. "Please continue to support our fallen officers and their families by donating anything that you can."

The post remained published on the guild's website on Wednesday afternoon.

Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar said he felt Manos had violated the public's trust through his alleged actions.

"I've had two weeks to process this, so I'm kind of past the dismay and disbelief," said Farrar. "I'm kind of at the point where I'm just angry."

"What makes this news particularly difficult to take is that the alleged theft was from donated funds intended for the victim officer's families," said Lakewood police spokesman Lt. Chris Lawler.

The allegations first came to light in late January when another Lakewood police officer reported that he believed someone within the executive board of the guild was stealing money from the fund. The officer, who suspected donations being made to the fund were not being properly accounted for, said he approached the guild, but the group failed to provide him with adequate answers.

The officer said he then went to the local branch of Bank of America where he knew the guild kept its accounts, and requested statements for all accounts associated with the guild. The documents revealed the existence of the account now in question.

"He located a bank account that nobody knew about," Farrar said.

This account's records had not been published on the guild members' website like the others, the officer told investigators, and the account's transactions appeared personal in nature.

The department contacted the Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist who, in turn, called federal investigators.

"Stealing from the children of our fallen officers is disgraceful. As financial crimes go, if these allegations are true, it doesn't get much lower than this," said Lindquist.

As treasurer, Manos' tasks involved paying the guild's phone bill, lawyer fees and disability insurance. No one else was involved in the finances of the group, the guild's vice president told investigators.

Manos was hired by the Lakewood Police Department in 2004 after working as a state trooper for a year. He has been placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

"He violated the trust of the public who were so giving at a time of our need. And he needs to be held accountable for that," said Farrar.