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Posted on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Washtenaw County employee charged with embezzling more than $100,000

By Lee Higgins

A Washtenaw County employee accused of embezzling at least $100,000 from Community Mental Health over a 16-year period is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing next week.

Debra Ann Ross was arraigned last month on a charge of embezzling $100,000 or more, records show.

Her attorney, Michael Vincent, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

It's unclear whether Ross still works for the county and what positions she held that gave her access to money. Diane Heidt, the county's human resources director, didn't return calls Monday and Tuesday seeking comment.

Ross, a county employee for more than 20 years, worked in Community Mental Health for at least four years, Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies said.

She was authorized to cash checks written for CMH services, said Derrick Jackson, the sheriff department's director of community engagement.

The alleged embezzlement began when Ross accepted another position with the county about 16 years ago, Jackson said.

After she began working in that position, she continued to collect checks being written to CMH to pay for services for one of its clients, Jackson said. The client's attorney was writing the checks, which Ross deposited into a personal bank account, Jackson said. The money should have gone into a county bank account, he said.

The investigation began after a recent audit, Jackson said.

Jackson said he didn't know how many checks were written, why it took so long to discover the alleged embezzlement and how Ross spent the money. No other arrests are anticipated, he said.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 and email at



Thu, Feb 18, 2010 : 12:23 p.m.

16 years! Why did not an annual audit find these issues? Fire the accountants and send her to jail.


Fri, Feb 12, 2010 : 6:47 p.m.

Isn't the former "director" of CMH (now CSTS) the Undersheriff? I wonder how well the finances of the Sheriff's department are being handled. I bet she gets a plea agreement with no jail time, no criminal conviction if successful completion of probation, and restitution only equal to what she stole.

Tell it

Thu, Feb 11, 2010 : 4:17 p.m.

It is most appalling that Kristin Judge, the County Commissioner said that she is so proud of their Finance Dept. We're really in trouble now!


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 9:39 p.m.

@halflight: Good work searching for the link. Sounds like Ms. Ross was an Accounts Payable Specialist according to the link you provided. How on earth did the county allow someone like this to get away with writing checks to herself for so long??? I don't care what awards a county receives, this appears to show someone was pulling a fast one right under the nose of those folks who were in charge of finances. Asleep at the wheel, or at least not paying attention. Could this be the reason why the county's finance director position is now open? Amazing.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 7:03 p.m.

Are there many business entities that employ over thousand employees that deal in millions of dollars in cash that don't have this issue? To simply broad stroke an accusation geared towards the County as a whole is not fair and just plain stupid. These things are inherent when you hire human beings to deal with money. Our federal gov't rewards these people as Congressman and "czars". I do think that stiffer penalties should be enjoyed by all who are entrusted to the public's money and than abuse that trust.

Kristin Judge

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 5:38 p.m.

@bellhelmet I hope my second post answered your concern.

Kristin Judge

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 5:12 p.m.

@annarbor28 What I was referring to is the integrity and professionalism of the finance staff. They are second to none! They have been awarded the "certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting" for 18 years straight. You can read more about concerns raised this year about internal financial controls in this article: The internal financial controls will be looked at by the board or at least some of us. I cannot speak for the entire board. If anyone has further questions, please do not hesitate to call or email me directly. 734-646-2088


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 5:10 p.m.

A search for "Debra Ann Ross Washtenaw" brought up a pdf document from the ewashtenaw website. It's an affidavit written for Debra A. Ross, Payables Generalist. One thing that might explain how this could be overlooked for a number of years: the client, through his lawyer, was paying CMH for services. Many if not most CMH clients receive services paid for with public funds. If this particular client was entered into the accounts payable system as paid by the public, no one would miss payment checks sent by the client.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 4:40 p.m.

Once upon a time, admittedly a decade ago, I once put the check for a utility payment into the envelope for a storage facility payment. The storage facility called and said, "Hey, wrong check!" the utility deposited a check NOT MADE OUT TO THEM for the wrong amount and credited us for a partial payment. (Yeah, we changed banks.) So these things do happen.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 1:48 p.m.

Old Salt A very good point! I would hope my bank would not cash a check I wrote to the county and allow it to be deposited in a personal account. What bank was it. How about some transparency here! To use a phrase tossed around the country these days but not adhered to.

Old Salt

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 1:30 p.m.

I blame the banks for this too, checks made out to Washtenaw County should be able to be deposited into a private bank account. please tell us the name of the bank, did Debra Ann Ross have help from a bank employee


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 1:29 p.m.

Quoting Ms. Judge, a county commissioner: "The county has a very strong finance department that I am proud to work with. However, there is always room to improve. With 1,400 employees and $200 million dollars a year going through the county, the track record is solid with the exception of this case." Ms. Judge: What is the evidence for the tracking and auditing systems being "rock-solid" if this case took 16 years to discover? Is your comment meant sardonically or tongue-in-cheek?


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 12:28 p.m.

I'm not dismissing the seriousness of the alleged activity, but I'm astonished that CMH administration was seemingly negligent with the responsibility for oversight and auditing procedures. Haven't we (they) learned lessons from other embezzlement cases?

Kristin Judge

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 12:16 p.m.

As a former hockey parent at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube and now a county commissioner, these stories are concerning. One thing I am working on this year with other commissioners is examining our internal financial auditing process. The county has a very strong finance department that I am proud to work with. However, there is always room to improve. With 1,400 employees and $200 million dollars a year going through the county, the track record is solid with the exception of this case.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 12:06 p.m.

"I hope she gets at least one week of a paid suspension and a stern talking-to!" That'sa good concise one! 5 Stars.... Is it me or is this a growth industry now? Seems to be a lot of this in the area over the last few years. Hey, 3 squares and a cot or probation for a year for 100k ain't too bad a return. Payback, recomp? Just offer $6 a month. A good lawyer should be able to put that in front of the court even with a straight face.

Tell it

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 12:01 p.m.

It's incredible that no more arrests are anticipated, since someone at Washtenaw County should have some responsiblity for this.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 11 a.m.

I wonder why they don't know if she is still employed with the County? She probably has been promoted to handle the Finance Department.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

Doesn't community health function on its own as a separate county entity? Perhaps it shouldn't if it allows things like this to happen.


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

I meant accountants. I guess I am somewhat inept when it comes to spelling. I will have to start proof reading my profound statements in the future!


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.

Are the accounts this inept or do they only do an audit once every 20 years?


Wed, Feb 10, 2010 : 8:23 a.m.

I hope she gets at least one week of a paid suspension and a stern talking-to!