Man charged in alleged unlicensed raffles

Joseph Searles previously practiced as mortgage broker without license; plans to plead not guilty in new case

jpawloski@theolympian.comFebruary 15, 2013 

A man charged with multiple counts of theft in Thurston County for allegedly running unlicensed raffles was the subject of a 2011 court order barring him from acting as a mortgage broker because he violated the Mortgage Broker Practices Act.

In the consent order handed down by the Washington Department of Financial Institutions, Joseph Searles admitted that he acted as a mortgage broker without a license when he was president and owner of First Columbia Mortgage Corporation, which had an office in Lacey. The consent order bars Searles from acting as a mortgage broker for five years. Searles also admitted in the consent decree that he:

 • Failed to provide “rate-lock disclosures” to clients while acting as a mortgage broker, in violation of state law.

 • Failed to deposit borrowers’ funds for payment of services into a trust account. He also admitted that he commingled operating funds with account funds from borrowers.

 • Engaged in unfair, misleading and deceptive advertising.

 • Defrauded and misled buyers.

 • Failed to maintain accurate books and records.

The state’s investigation of Searles resulted from two consumer complaints about Searles’ First Columbia Mortgage Corporation.

Last week, Searles, 63, and his wife Rena, 61 were charged in Thurston County Superior Court with three counts of first-degree theft, three counts of first-degree conspiracy to commit theft and three counts of running an unlicensed raffle. Their arraignments are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19.

The couple is accused in court records of taking in more than $277,000 in proceeds from three raffles it illegally held in Thurston County to raise money for autism research between May 2010 and March 2012. Out of those proceeds, only $4,931 was donated to an autism charity, court papers state.

Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Gambling Commission, said Wednesday that any licensed raffle for charity in Washington must donate all of its proceeds, minus operating expenses, to the charity it purports to assist.

“All of the money should be going back,” she said.

Joseph Searles’ attorney, Saxon Rodgers, said Thursday that his client will plead not guilty at the arraignment. Rodgers declined to comment further.

The Searles’ business that was conducting raffles, ostensibly to benefit autism charities, was called Associated Services of Washington Inc. It has the same acronym - ASW - as a legitimate autism organization, the Autism Society of Washington.

The phone number at Associated Services of Washington, located on Martin Way, had been disconnected as of Wednesday.

The Washington State Gambling Commission began an investigation of the Searles in January of 2012, after receiving a report from the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

On Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office issued a consent decree in King County, ordering Searles and his wife to permanently cease and desist from engaging in solicitation activities on behalf of any charities, or “from forming any charitable organization in Washington.” If they disobey the consent order, they must pay a $50,000 penalty.

A September newspaper article in The Oregonian, stated that an organization run by Joseph Searles called Autism Awareness United was raising money in Oregon, but was under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice, because, according to the article, “it appeared to have broken state laws.”

Jeff Manning, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice, said Wednesday that he cannot comment on his office’s continuing investigation.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445

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