Saturday, March 5, 2011

Former University employee arrested for embezzlement in Montana

A Missoula woman is in jail after being arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing over $300,000 from the University of Montana.

Former UM employee Christine Rose Bitterman, 49, is charged with five felony counts of theft reaching back to 2003, according to court documents. Bitterman worked in the UM internal audit department and handled University Villages tenants' rent.

Records show that authorities first began investigating Bitterman last July when a University Villages tenant complained that her account didn't show that she had paid her rent, and showed a receipt as proof. A staffer noticed that Bitterman had been responsible for that account, and found discrepancies in other tenant accounts. Bitterman returned the missing money and said she had forgotten to deposit it. The internal audit office put her on leave to investigate, and she resigned from her job soon after.

According to court papers, after several months of investigation, auditors made a "conservative estimate" that Bitterman had stolen $304,007.27.

Bitterman allegedly managed to steal money over the years a combination of procedures. Auditors found she entered irregular postings in the accounting systems that showed a receipt card for cash payments, but then entering the payment as a check. Bitterman also allegedly entered adjustments to rent charges to negate the need for a payment. These procedures allowed her to keep missing cash from being noticed.

In October of 2010, according to records, the UM Office of Public Safety began investigating. Detectives learned that co-workers had noticed Bitterman frequently paid for items in cash, and her office emails showed she often spent about $400 month shopping at an online prescription store. Bank records showed she routinely spent more per month than she made from her work.

UM Executive Vice President Jim Foley, in an official statement, said "The University is aware of the incident, and the case is now in the hands of the court." He also said the University reviewed job responsibilities to add more oversight in fiscal matters.

Missoula Justice Court Judge John Odlin set Bitterman's bail at $100,000.

Each count of felony theft carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

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