Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wash. Church Organist Charged With Fraud

A church organist has been charged with nearly 200 counts of theft for allegedly collecting about $400,000 in state workers' compensation payments intended for her dead mother.

Lois Bachhuber, of Portland, Ore., was charged Monday in Thurston County Superior Court with 150 counts of second-degree theft and 48 counts of first-degree theft. Her arraignment is scheduled for May 24.

Thurston County prosecutors say Bachhuber, 66, continued to submit annual forms certifying that her mother was alive and entitled to benefits from the state Department of Labor and Industries even though her mother, Viola Elsner, died in 1988.

"She continued to submit to the state annual forms saying, 'Mom's fine, please keep the checks a-rollin,'" Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Wheeler told The Olympian in Wednesday's editions.

Bachhuber faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The Olympian said she declined comment when reached at home.

The workers' compensation benefits initially were paid to Bachhuber's father, who was injured in an industrial accident in the 1960s. He died in 1978, and his widow was entitled to the monthly payments until her death.

Court documents say the workers' compensation checks were worth about $1,600 each when Bachhuber was discovered.

Her case was uncovered by an investigator cross-referencing records. When interviewed, she said, "In her mind, her mother was still here," according to the investigative report.

Bachhuber is an organist for Oaks Pioneer Church in Portland and also played for funerals and weddings, Wheeler said.



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