After 47 days in jail, Joe Phan is breathing some fresh air

After 47 days in jail, Joe Phan is breathing some fresh air again – on the way to work, anyway. The ex-utilities department engineer accused of the largest embezzlement of public funds in modern Seattle City Hall history has scored a bed in the county’s work-release facility and will be allowed to go to his new daytime job cleaning the inside of marine tanks on ships. Unable to make $750,000 bail, the millionaire’s transfer from jail was backed by his church pastor who says Phan is determined to “turn past mistakes or mishaps into positive outcomes.”Phan is accused of stealing $1 million from his employer, Seattle Public Utilities, by diverting payments for water main extensions to his personal bank account. Prosecutors say he stole more than 70 checks – written for amounts from $675 to $217,655 and totaling $1,090,762.16 – over a five-year period. Most of the diverted checks were deposited from January 2008 through November 2010, when Phan was putting, on average, $360,000 a year into his Bank of America account.

Phan, with the bank’s help, had little trouble allegedly entering City of Seattle checks into his personal account – which he opened under his name and a fictitious entity called the “City of Sea” by showing a driver’s license, police say. “He had an official-looking little rubber stamp made up that he used to stamp the backs of the checks, and then put them through an ATM,” says prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “There was little face-to-face contact with the bank.”Arrested March 1, Phan has been unable to make bail after his assets and bank accounts were legally frozen in court by City Attorney Pete Holmes, seeking to recover the funds Phan allegedly stole. The former city engineer made $81,000 a year but has property worth more than $1.1 million, which he has agreed to deed, in trust, to the city and sell. The city has already claimed more than $200,000 that remained in Phan’s BofA account and has put Phan and his wife and two children on a court-approved allowance of $1,000 a week.King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle approved Phan’s bid for a jail transfer on Monday. He has since been moved to the work release facility and is allowed to go to his job as a day laborer for Marine Vacuum Services of Seattle. Owner Charlie Cambell told the court that Phan would work at least part-time on a crew that cleans fuel, chemical and storage tanks on marine vessels.Son Xuan Nguyen, pastor of the Seattle Seventh Day Adventist Church, urged the judge to allow Phan to enter work release where he can begin to “reconcile with the community.” Phan and his family have attended the church for ten years, the pastor said, and Joe Phan was a deacon and active volunteer “instrumental in helping the many poor and needy people among our community.” No trial date has been set in Phan’s criminal case. A source says the two sides are negotiating a plea. Phan faces up to ten years in prison.

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

More in News & Comment

King County weather: Dec. 3-5

Here is your King County area weather forecast for Dec. 3-5, 2021.… Continue reading

Former UW Medicine peer support specialist James Encinas sitting in his home. Photo by Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing
Former Harborview social worker was victim of racial discrimination and retaliation

James Encinas worked for behavioral health program that aimed to house the chronically homeless.

Keith Wagoner
Senator becomes first GOP candidate for secretary of state

Sen. Keith Wagoner will challenge Democrat Steve Hobbs, who was appointed to the statewide post in November

Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge & Spa. File photo
Snoqualmie Tribe concerned with unregulated air traffic at Snoqualmie Falls

Tribe urges federal regulators to introduce flight restrictions over sacred site.

The Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center is located at 31510 Pete von Reichbauer Way S. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror
FEMA to send mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit to Western Washington

The mobile site is set to open Dec. 20 in Federal Way; additional locations to come.

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Washington health officials discuss response to new COVID variant

Things will be handled with Omicron variant similar to the Delta variant.

File photo
As new COVID-19 variant looms, vaccination disparities linger in King County

County data shows gaps among age, geography and race.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn
King County Councilmember Dunn will challenge Rep. Kim Schrier for U.S. Congress seat

The current County Councilmember would be following in his late mother’s footsteps

Garbage at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill in Maple Valley. FILE PHOTO
King County and Port of Seattle to collaborate on waste-to-fuel study

The study is aimed at identifying logistics of developing aviation fuel out of municipal garbage.

Most Read