SPD: Suspect tried to extort $150,000 from company in vandalism scheme

Seattle Police (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE - A man is under arrest after a months-long investigation found that he tried to extort $150,000 from a Seattle-based company by vandalizing employees' homes, Seattle police said.

Detective Patrick Michaud of the Seattle Police Department said the 46-year-old suspect targeted the tax software company Avalara, based in downtown Seattle that has about 1,200 employees and satellite offices around the United States.

According to Michaud, the suspect worked for the company for three months in summer 2016 and abruptly quit in October 2016. He then started demanding "severance pay," which was denied as unwarranted and unusual.

He told them that a previous employer had paid him $150,000, and the investigation found that in 2013 one of his previous employers did pay him that amount after four of their employees had their homes and cars vandalized with graffiti, Michaud said.

Investigators found evidence of multiple other similar incidents by the suspect during the investigation, according to police.

Then, from November 2016 to January 2017, 12 employees and customers of Avalara had their homes and cars vandalized with graffiti - just as had happened with the suspect's previous employer. The suspect also continued to demand that the company pay him "severance." He said it was "war" and that only he could end it.

The company still refused to pay the money as police continued to investigate. Then in May 2017 two more employees of the company in Durham, N.C., had their homes and cars damaged with graffiti identical to the incidents in Washington state - right down to using the same language, Michaud said.

The suspect then again demanded that the company pay him $150,000 "severance" but denied knowing anything about vandalism, according to police.

With the assistance of the FBI and a series of search warrants, investigators obtained flight records of the suspect flying to Charlotte, N.C., video of him renting a car and location information showing him driving 140 miles from Charlotte to Durham and back the night of the vandalism, Michaud said.

Over the past few weeks he continued to email the company, remaining steadfast in his demand for $150,000. The payment was then scheduled for the afternoon of June 29.

But when the suspect showed up at a local bank that day to set up a new account to deposit the funds, he was arrested and booked into the King County Jail for investigation of extortion.

During an initial court appearance Friday, the suspect was ordered held on $750,000 bail. His next court appearance is set for July 5.

Michaud said the investigation involved not only the FBI but also the King County Prosecutor’s Office and other local police agencies.

“Avalara thanks the Seattle Police Department for its continued commitment to this challenging case," a company spokesperson told KOMO News. "The safety and security of our employees remains our top priority and the law enforcement team’s ongoing partnership is highly-valued.”

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