Hush Money

"I ALSO THOUGHT it possible my friend might want me dead," Gerianne Silva writes. "I was so stressed, I thought I might seriously have a stroke. I couldn't sleep, and I was deeply depressed. I was 42 and never even had a traffic ticket. I kept telling myself that every day I kept quiet about this was another day my kids had a mother. I prepared my will and I kept my mouth shut and started gathering information."

It clearly was not a good time for Silva, financial analyst and 10-year employee of the Washington State Liquor Control Board in Olympia. A relative had been killed in a car wreck. Her stepfather had had a stroke. Her boyfriend of four years had moved out. She was a single mom raising two teen sons. Now she'd discovered that her friend and state-liquor vendor Russell LaFountaine apparently was ripping off liquor deliveries—with her assistance. "I felt like puking!" Silva says in a sort of embezzlement diary she composed and turned over to the state auditor last March.

LaFountaine, 34, of Seattle, was arrested last week in Vacaville, Calif. He is accused of defrauding the liquor board of $840,000 in booze deliveries. It's the largest such fraud ever turned up by the state auditor. For at least three years, LaFountaine, a liquor-truck driver known for throwing grand parties featuring free booze, supposedly inflated weights and ginned up the invoices of his liquor deliveries.

Silva admits LaFountaine gave her $10,000 to keep quiet, $6,000 of which she claims to have returned. She eventually went to authorities, handing them an emotional eight-page record of events, including a tip-off to the liquor board's accounting flaw: It simply stopped auditing invoices in 1998. Though not charged with a crime and credited for her eventual whistle-blowing, Silva has been fired by the liquor board and won't comment. But her diary speaks for itself.

"I never dreamed he was doing anything wrong," Silva writes. "I had been to his house [on Lake Washington] for some parties. I helped him when his brother was murdered in 2001, and spent endless hours on the phone talking about his fun lifestyle and his love life. He also had invited me to some Mariners games in the suite that adjoined the owners of the team. . . . He had a $35,000 watch, three cars—one of which cost $68,000—and he had just spent $25,000 to remodel his sister-in-law's house. . . .

"In September of 2001 . . . I almost fell over when I discovered he was inflating the [liquor delivery] weight sometimes by 20,000 pounds. I went into the bathroom and had to sit a long time with my mind reeling. . . . I was shocked when he told me he was making up the weights." LaFountaine promised to hire a lawyer and pay it all back. She told him he was stupid and that she'd be implicated. "I had watched enough TV to know that the person on the inside was an accomplice, taking a cut of the pay." When she took the hush money, she recalls thinking: "I will regret this until the day I die."

By December, LaFountaine was in a funk: "I was realizing he was an alcoholic and suspected he had a major drug problem. He confirmed this to me around Jan. 16, the last time I saw him." Silva had also added up the thefts by then. "I told him he had stolen half a million dollars! . . . He said he had no idea it was that much money." She met with several attorney friends of LaFountaine, who were hoping to work a deal for him. "Their plan was to go straight to the top and try to get an appointment with the attorney general. I felt these guys were . . . just too excited . . . to get this case, and because of the political ties, they would become famous."

She mulled it over. "On March 6, I was told that [LaFountaine] was packing up his house and moving out of the state." She went to authorities days later. When they arrived with a warrant at LaFountaine's place, he was gone. "I just buried my head because I couldn't deal with it," Silva writes. "Hindsight tells me he used me the whole time. But I'm not even sure he is smart enough to be so calculating."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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