Man Steals $277k From Autism Research, Gets $5k Fine

Autism research con man gets slap on wrist.

A man ran three fake fundraising raffles in the name of autism research, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but only got a slap on the wrist.

To those of us in the autism community, autism research is no laughing matter. But, according to the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office it must be. They made a deal with a professional con man who stole $277,000 in raffle funds meant for autism research charities. The deal essentially lets him off with little more than a slap on the wrist.

The Con: Raffles to raise money for autism research.

According to an article in The Olympian, Joseph Searles conducted three raffles in the name of autism research between 2010 and 2012. The raffles brought in a combined total of $277,000. Yet, Searles only gave $4,931 to autism charity, Autism Society of Washington.

The other $272,069 went into his pocket.

The Sentence: Slap on wrist with “Shame on you! Now, go home and think about what you did!”

Searles was technically sentenced to 90 days jail time. But, the judge, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy decided that this time would be served on electronic home monitoring. Yup, his own bed and fancy electronic bracelet.

Now, don’t worry, that’s not all. He also has to pay restitution: a whopping $5,000.

The man walked away with $272,069 of other people’s money, and all he has to pay back is $5,000. The reason for this comes down to the fact that you can’t get blood from a turnip. County prosecutor, Joe Wheeler, claimed that they asked for the low figure “because Searles apparently no longer has any assets and his house is in foreclosure, his office agreed to a restitution sum that the autism charity can realistically recoup.”

As bad as that is, I can understand it. There really isn’t any point in trying to get back more than you know you can. However, when cases like that come up the corresponding jail time should compensate. Instead, Searles gets to stay home with his wife for 90 days.

The Con Man: Professional con men have records… just like Joseph Searles.

Look, if this had been a once-off, or a first offense for Searls I might not be as upset. But, it wasn’t, and it’s not. He worked his con three times over the course of two years. That’s not making a mistake, or a single offense. He intentionally targeted people in and around the autism community. Let’s face it, autism research just isn’t sexy. The people who typically buy fund-raising raffle tickets are those with loved ones diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or someone who knows someone like that. These are people who are already financial stretched. And he did this with the promise that the proceeds would go to fund autism research. Which also gives false hope to those buying the tickets, as well as to the charity expecting the money.

In addition to Searles’ scam not being an isolated incident, this isn’t the fist time he’s been caught with his hands in the proverbial cookie jar. According to the Olympian article, “ In 2011, Searles was the subject of a court order in Washington barring him from acting as a mortgage broker because he violated the Mortgage Broker Practices Act.” He was also issued a cease and desist order in regards to any kind of solicitation in the state of Washington.

This man isn’t misunderstood, he’s a professional confidence artist. and he’s pulled on over on the Washington. If they think 90 days at home and a $5,000 fine is going to make him feel bad about stealing $272,069 they’re wrong. Compared to his profit for this job, he got off with merely a slap on the wrist and no incentive not to do it again in another state.