SPOKANE, Wash. – The Spokane County contract with title and licensing subcontractor, ‘Al Paulsen's Licensing, Inc,' was terminated by the Spokane County Auditor's office Thursday morning, for breach of contract, effectively shutting down the business.
While the county auditor, Vicky Dalton, can't comment on the specifics of the investigation, she does cite ‘irregularities in transactions,' and says, in her 14 years on the job, this is only the second time she's had to close down an office.
It's been Al Paulsen's business for more than 30 years – until today. He came to work to find a letter from the county auditor, and a moving truck that would be loaded up with computers, ledgers, inventory and documents by the auditor's staff and undercover Spokane Police.
Paulsen told KHQ he's shocked.
"If you're going to accuse somebody of something, and you're going to close up their business, and shut down 4 or 5 employees, you should be able to substantiate this with some proof immediately," Paulsen said.
The allegations listed on his letter include:
-that his licensing business knowingly processed title transactions incorrectly
-failed to document and collect proper taxes
-failed to document and follow state emission testing requirements
-falsified a public record
But Paulsen contests that list.
"We have employees, we feel they're very honest and good," he said. "If they've done something, they've done something unknowingly and in error, and not on purpose, and there's a complete difference there."
Count Auditor Vicky Dalton says this subcontractor – and the 8 others in the county – is extensions of government. They may be private businesses, but they're not private contractors. They perform a government function, and are therefore under contract to follow certain regulations as a matter of consumer protection. When those regulations aren't followed, there are a series of verbal and written warnings, discipline and re-training.
"The contract does recognize that there are situations that are so egregious, and such a breach of the public trust, that we can immediately terminate and close an office," Dalton said.
Dalton said, everything but the building, the staff, desks and phones are property of the state, and was repossessed today.
Spokane Police are doing a separate criminal investigation into title fraud.
"We'll see where this leads," Paulsen told KHQ. "I've never backed down from anything in my life. And I'm not sure I'm going to back down from this."
Paulsen's 5 employees showed up to work today only to find out they're now out of work.
The county says, because of the ongoing criminal investigation, they can't comment on how long these ‘suspect transactions' have been going on, or how many people may have been affected. However, they do say there are a ‘significant' number – enough to show this was not an isolated incident, but a pattern of violation.