Master thief?

WHEN A JURY convicted former Pike Place Market rent collector Millie Padua, 73, of stealing $171,000 in Market funds over a 35-month period, it also found the kindly grandmother guilty of being one of the more accomplished serial thieves in Seattle history.

Every workday, Padua casually walked out of the Market with an average of $200 in stolen funds, according to the prosecutors' scenario—which jurors believed.

The relentless thefts took place from January 1996 through November 1998, without anyone noticing.

Though the case was essentially one long audit—in their deliberations, jurors asked for a calculator—panel members told reporters they also struggled with their emotions in convicting the elderly widow last week.

Now it's Padua and her stunned supporters who are trying to keep it together. A Market merchant since 1948 and its master from 1974 through 1998, Padua had turned down several plea bargain offers and faces up to three months in jail—but could get more.

"The office has not decided on a specific sentence recommendation," says prosecutor spokesperson Dan Donohoe.

Padua is said to be shattered by the verdict. Supporter Theresa Alexander, who attended some of the trial, says, "Millie has lost everything—her house, everything. I don't believe the jury knew the whole story about this case."

Supporters felt that the Market's cash-handling procedures were so sloppy, no one could be sure if any money was actually taken.

Not the jury, however. It reached its decision without hearing from any eyewitnesses to the thefts; apparently no one other than Padua saw or knew of the steady pilfering (the loss was detected by a 1998 audit).

Jurors were apparently satisfied that Padua herself had provided the preponderance of evidence—her receipts, bank records, and merchant logs from that period, some with erased and transposed figures, which were introduced by prosecutors.

Deputy prosecutor Scott Peterson also showed jurors a list that totaled $64,000 deposited in Padua's bank account during that time and $12,000 in cash payments made on her credit cards.

Prosecutors earlier indicated that as much as $300,000 was embezzled dur-ing Padua's tenure as master.

Rick Anderson

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