Centralia — At the peak of the House of the Rising Son organization, Judy Chafin ran numerous halfway houses for recently released convicts throughout Lewis County.
She collected rent, went grocery shopping for the tenants, enforced house rules and dealt with all financial transactions of the business. All the while, she was allegedly collecting disability checks from the Department of Labor and Industries, claiming she was unable to work.
L&I and prosecutors allege that Chafin submitted a claim for worker’s compensation on Sept. 22, 2006, to L&I after she sustained an on-the-job injury while working as a care provider. Shortly after her injury, she helped form House of the Rising Son.
For seven years, L&I paid the Chehalis woman more than $90,000, court documents state. In order to continue receiving the work-loss check, Chafin signed forms that said she “did not perform any work, paid or unpaid, due to a work-related injury/illness.”
For that, Chafin now faces 30 felony counts of forgery as well as one count of felony theft.
In the first day of what is expected to be a three-day bench trial, taking place in Superior Court Judge James Lawler’s courtroom, multiple witnesses testified that Chafin rented houses from various landlords, then rerented out the rooms in the different houses to recently released felons. Makeshift partitions were built in numerous rooms to make additional living space for more tenants. People also slept in the living and dining rooms.
In its infancy, the organization had a board of directors that helped run it, said Christine Mosey, the mother of Chafin’s ex-husband, Keith Williams, during her testimony on Monday.
Chafin soon took control of the finances and set all the rules of the house.
“As it progressed, no one else had anything else to say about how (the money) was spent,” Mosey said. “There was no accountability for how money was spent – what they needed, how it was collected.”
The felons had to abide by strict house rules and pay a mandatory monthly “donation” of a few hundred dollars. If they broke the rules, they’d be kicked out.
“If they didn’t obey the rules, Judy would just keep the money and make them leave,” Mosey said.
Chafin’s ex-mother-in-law said she lived in one of the House of the Rising Son locations on two separate occasions in order to assist Williams and Chafin in the day-to-day operations of the house.
Both stays led to disagreements with Chafin, and Mosey left the houses and subsequently the organization.
The first departure stemmed from an incident in which Chafin thought Mosey was saying bad things about her behind Chafin’s back. Chafin screamed at Mosey, so she left.
Several months later, Chafin offered her a room at a different House of the Rising Son location and said she could help run the house, Mosey testified.
Mosey, however, still felt uncomfortable about the financial situation of the organization. When Mosey requested more transparency about the house’s finances, as Mosey had been soliciting a local church for donations, Chafin kicked her out.
“Judy gave me a (written) notice to leave and in it it said because I had a big mouth,” Mosey said.
Deborah Hawkins, who previously lived and helped manage one of the House of the Rising Son locations, also testified Monday afternoon that Chafin would collect every tenants’ food stamp cards and use them to buy food for multiple houses.
The types of food that went to each house, however, was not the same.
Hawkins, who often assisted in the grocery shopping for House of the Rising Son, said Chafin would use the EBT cards to buy two shopping carts full of food: One cart would contain more expensive foods, like pork chops and steaks, as well as food for Chafin’s grandchild – such as cookies and juice boxes. The other cart was filled with different and more inexpensive foods.
The first cart of food went to the house where Chafin, her husband, her mother-in-law and other family members lived.
The other went to a different Chehalis house, which was a renovated church on 14th Street, where the majority of Chafin’s tenants lived.
At times, up to 14 people were living at the 14th Street address. That property ran into several zoning and abatement issues with the city of Chehalis and was ultimately shut down last year.
In the organization’s earlier years, Hawkins said, Chafin trained her, along with the other tenants of the house on 14th Street, to tell anyone who asked – whether it be a city employee or police – that only five people at the house were residents. The others were visitors.
Due to Chafin’s hard-nosed demeanor and harsh house rules, she developed a nickname: “The Hammer.”
“She could be real mean and real nasty,” Hawkins said. “She made me cry more than once.”