Parks worker says she's innocent, claims identity theft

A receptionist for the Ashland Parks Department accused of stealing more than $43,000 from the city says she is a victim of identity theft and plans to fight the charges.

Becky Bianco, 48, was arrested Tuesday on multiple counts of theft, identity theft, computer crime and falsifying business records.

"I didn't do this," Bianco said Thursday. "It's a nightmare. My personal identity has been stolen or compromised."

Ashland police, however, dispute her claim.

"We have no information that that was a possibility," said Ashland Deputy Chief Corey Falls.

Bianco was released from the Jackson County Jail after posting 10 percent of her $82,000 bail.

Police believe that over a two-year period, Bianco funneled $43,390 worth of fraudulent refunds for parks classes and facility rentals into her own financial accounts.

"We're not frivolous about our investigation or naive," Falls said. "We have a lot of evidence that this was going on for the past two years. Most people check on their statements and would notice this type of thing."

Bianco, who has worked for the department since 2003, said whoever stole her identity would put money from the fraudulent refunds into her checking and credit card accounts, but then would take out the same amount of money so her accounts would look balanced.

"It was invisible. I did not see it," she said.

She said she had two checking accounts at separate banks that were affected, as well as four credit cards.

Bianco said she did her banking online and had paperless statements.

She said she never received fraud alerts from her credit card companies because companies alert customers about suspicious purchases, not about money coming into their accounts.

She said when she noticed something wrong with her accounts, she notified her parks department supervisors on Nov. 5, but was immediately put on administrative leave. Bianco said she has been cooperating fully with police and is still on leave.

Falls and Parks Director Don Robertson said the alleged thefts were first brought to light when an outside company that processes payments to the parks department contacted the department to report suspicious activity.

Bianco said she handled about 99 percent of incoming and outgoing money for the parks department that was related to refunds, class registrations and facility rentals. But she said other people had access to software used for the job, and she thought someone had been using her log-in password.

Bianco said she had entered information from two of her credit cards into the software program, once for an activity for her daughter, and once to register for an exercise class for herself.

Bianco is scheduled to enter a plea on Feb. 4, and said she plans to plead not guilty to all counts.

"I do believe justice will prevail," she said. "My hope is that my name will be cleared."

Police have said they do not believe Bianco's alleged thefts are related to alleged thefts of about $2,000 worth of city gas and parks department equipment and fertilizer by Harold Ross Straub, and alleged thefts of about $200 worth of parks equipment by Steve Lawrence.

Straub was fired in December and Lawrence resigned that month. Both were parks technicians.

Straub's work partner, Shane Peabody, is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. A police detective who staked out a work area said Peabody saw Straub pouring parks department gas into Straub's personal truck.

Police said Peabody has provided information to assist in the investigation about Straub.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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