Long before falling out with his daughter Rachel and revealing to the world that the Spokane, Washington, NAACP President had been deceiving people by posing as a black woman, Larry Dolezal was a local county commissioner in Montana facing felony charges.
Court records obtained by BuzzFeed News show that Larry Dolezal was indicted on two felony theft charges and two counts of making false claims to governmental agencies between Jan. 1, 1997, and April 30, 1998. Dolezal stood accused of filing claims for meals and travel expenses for which he was allegedly not entitled to be reimbursed.
Two of the charges related to $875 in meal expenses claims for times when he was working at his Lincoln County Courthouse office but not in official meetings. Prosecutors alleged this ran against the law and county policy.
The other two charges concerned $558 in mileage expenses submitted by Dolezal for 23 trips between his home in Troy, Montana, to the town of Yaak, roughly 40 miles — about an hour's drive — away. Larry Dolezal made the trips on Sundays to attend church in Yaak with his family.
"The Defendant attempted to justify these trips by saying he inspected the road and garbage sites while on the way to and from church," read a 1999 affidavit prepared by Montana's then-Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Murphy.
Part of Dolezal's duties as commissioner involved inspecting roads and the work done by road crews, but Murphy told BuzzFeed News Wednesday that the number and frequency of the inspections he claimed were highly unusual.
"That stretch of road had to be the most inspected road by a county commissioner in the history of Montana," he said. "It didn't change that much. It's Montana! We only have two seasons: winter and road repair."
Dolezal faced up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine if convicted, but the case was dismissed by the judge. Dolezal's claims, the judge ruled, had been authorized and approved by his fellow commissioners and the county clerk, thus failing to satisfy the legal elements of the theft charges, which required unauthorized control of others' property.
"I fought the law and the law won," Murphy said. "It's one of those things. There weren't any secrets. The evidence was the evidence. I presented the fact that he got them approved, I just guessed that the underlying act was bad enough to proceed."
"You don't win many arguments like that with judges," Murphy said.
Dolezal has said he lost a 1998 county election by 79 votes because of publicity stemming from the charges. He was one of four candidates considered for appointment as a Lincoln County commissioner last year following one member's resignation, but ultimately lost. According to the Western News, in his original application for the vacant spot, Dolezal described the charges as being part of a "highly publicized, malicious campaign against me based on false allegations."
When contacted by BuzzFeed News Wednesday, Larry Dolezal had no comment.
In addition to the controversy surrounding Rachel's race, the Dolezal family has been torn asunder by child sexual assault charges against Joshua Dolezal, Larry and Ruthanne's oldest biological son, over his alleged abuse of the couple's black adopted daughter Esther. Larry and Ruthanne told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that the allegations were "absolutely untrue" and the result of Esther "teaming up" with Rachel to "destroy the family." They claimed their adopted daughter was mentally unstable and prone to lying.
Murphy told BuzzFeed News that he remembered his case against Dolezal well. "It's the only case in a 35-year career where I got motioned out," Murphy said. "You tend to remember those."
"I was kind of familiar with the Dolezal name, and then when I saw the family on TV outing the daughter I kind of wondered when I might get called," he said.