Monday, May 30, 2011

Former UCDAVIS vet school employee arrested for embezzlement in California


Police on Thursday arrested a former employee of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital for allegedly stealing more than $10,000 in pet medications from the pharmacy, then reselling them.

Emily Ramos of Woodland surrendered at the Yolo County Jail at 10 a.m., having been accused of 38 counts of embezzlement. She was released after posting a $20,000 bond.
Ramos worked as a pharmacy technician from July 2001 until quitting in December 2010, according to a UCD news release. She is due to be arraigned in Yolo County Superior Court on June 24.
In response to the investigation, UCD said the hospital has taken steps to improve documentation of non-controlled substances, reduce inventory, limit after-hours access to the pharmacy and see that staff are escorted while in the pharmacy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ex Detroit Public School bookkeeper pleads guilty to embezzlement


A former Detroit Public Schools bookkeeper faces 18 months in prison after pleading guilty this week to embezzling more than $148,000 from the cash-strapped district.

Allen Swayze, 34, of Detroit, admitted on Tuesday in U.S. District Court that he wrote phony and unauthorized checks drawn on bank accounts belonging to Breithaupt Career and Technical Center, the DPS school where he was employed, said U.S. Attorney Barbara Mcquade.
According to McQuade, the embezzlement took place between 2006 and 2009. Swayze wrote nearly $149,000 in fraudulent and unauthorized checks to himself and then deposited them in his bank accounts, she said.
“We hope that this case will deter others from stealing money intended to benefit our school children,” McQuade said.”Officials who steal school funds will be caught and brought to justice.”
Swayze faces up to 18 months in prison and a $250,000 fine. He also pay the DPS restitution in the amount of $148,772.86, which is the amount he stole. He will be sentenced Aug. 23.
Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the FBI Detroit field office, said public corruption investigations remains a high priority in Detroit, and that the agency “continues to aggressively investigate individuals who steal funds originally designated for the Detroit Public Schools and the children of the City of Detroit.”

Ex-church treasurer pleads guilty to embezzling in Michigan

From the Herald Palladium:

The former treasurer of a church pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling money “hundreds” of times over nine years.

Jon Ruppel admitted in court that he took the money from St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in St. Joseph from 2002 through early 2011, although he was unable to give an exact amount.
Prosecutors alleged that the 46-year-old Ruppel used his position overseeing church finances to steal about $262,000 from St. Peter’s, 623 Church St.
Ruppel appeared in Berrien County Trial Court for a conference with his lawyer, Andrew Burch, and pleaded guilty to a charge of embezzlement of $50,000 to $100,000. He was to have faced a preliminary hearing today.
Ruppel is free on bond pending sentencing on June 20. Conviction on the charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Under terms of a plea agreement, a more serious charge of embezzlement over $100,000 is to be dismissed, said Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Smith.
The agreement also requires Ruppel to pay $70,000 to the church before he is sentenced and further restitution as the court may order, Smith said.
Before accepting the guilty plea, Judge Gary Bruce questioned Ruppel about how he embezzled money.
Ruppel, of St. Joseph, told the court that he kept money for himself that was to have been deposited in church accounts, including collection plate offerings. He said he also withdrew money from church accounts.
Ruppel was charged in March after church officials contacted St. Joseph police, who investigated.
The police investigation showed that Ruppel withdrew $50,000 from a church gift fund as a check in 2009 and $55,000 in another check from the same fund in 2010.
At the time of Ruppel’s arrest, Smith said the church board began investigating after an administrative secretary noticed that the gift fund was nearly depleted.
After the secretary prepared paperwork for the board, church officials went to St. Joseph police, Smith said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

School Board V.P. Accused of Embezzling from Convenience Store in Wisconsin


The vice president of the Manitowoc School Board appeared in court Monday on charges of stealing from a convenience store where he used to work.

Police say Timothy Newberg worked at Uni-Mart from 2007 until last year.
He's accused of stealing about $4,000 from the store during his last few months of employment, and detectives say he may be connected to a larger embezzlement scheme.
Newberg will be back in court for his preliminary hearing next week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Grand jury indicts Ossining couple, 3rd suspect in Vassar College theft

A continuing investigation into a former Vassar College construction manager from Ossining has uncovered more widespread embezzlement than originally believed, a Dutchess County prosecutor said.

In grand jury indictments handed up Friday, Arthur, 44, and his wife, Jennifer Fisher, 38, are accused of stealing nearly $2.5 million by billing the college for work that was never done, District Attorney William Grady said.
The couple was charged last month with stealing about $1.9 million dating to 2008. But Senior Assistant District Attorney Edward Whitesell said further auditing of the college's finances between 2006 and 2008 revealed the Fishers and another man, Christopher DeSanto, 31, also of Ossining, had allegedly falsified an additional $600,000 in invoices.
"When the accountants went back and looked at that period, they discovered a second fictitious company," Whitesell said.
The Fishers were indicted on a felony count of first-degree grand larceny. Arthur Fisher also was indicted on two felony counts of second-degree grand larceny, four of forgery and four of criminal possession of a forged instrument. DeSanto was indicted on one count of second-degree grand larceny.
The Fishers were taken into custody April 1 when Poughkeepsie town police charged them with stealing from Vassar through a fictitious firm called C&R Construction. The additional $600,000 was billed through a phony company called Good Shepherd Construction, Grady said.
Arthur Fisher has been in the county jail since then on $100,000 bail. His wife was freed on bail April 2. DeSanto was released on $10,000 bail Friday afternoon, several hours after his arraignment before county Judge Stephen L. Greller.
The Fishers may also face illegal weapon charges in Westchester County stemming from the seizure of a number of guns in their home. Police also seized several vehicles worth an estimated $500,000 from them.
Attorneys representing the defendants did not return telephone calls Friday.
Grady commended the town police probe and Vassar for its cooperation.
Police were notified in March after an internal college audit revealed billing irregularities for a roof project, Vassar spokesman Jeff Kosmacher said, adding his thanks to investigators and saying the school would continue to cooperate.
If convicted of the top charge, the Fishers would face up to 25 years in prison. DeSanto faces a maximum of 15 years. All three are next due in court June 21.

Former daycare director sentenced for embezzlement in Wisconsin

The former director of an area daycare is sentenced for siphoning off funds for her own use.

Nicole Bates has already paid $22,000 she was accused of taking from the Tender Learning Center in Ladysmith. Bates was ordered this week to do community service, and will be on probation for three years. The felony charges against her were reduced to misdemeanors as part of a plea bargain.
Bates admitted using the business credit card for personal expenses at area businesses, and for an online dating service

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Former charity chief Aponte sentenced to 25 years for stealing in Texas

A tearful Louanne Aponte asked for forgiveness Friday after being sentenced to 25 years in prison for stealing more than $1 million from three local nonprofits.
Sitting on the witness stand in state District Judge Julie Kocurek's courtroom, Aponte, 52 , read from a statement in which she apologized to her family, the community and the charities from which she stole.
"I am sorry that as I battled my demons, you got hurt," she said.
Aponte pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree felony theft for stealing more than $800,000 from Family Connections, where she had become executive director in 2004, and more than $100,000 from the Texas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies , where she was treasurer. Kocurek sentenced her to 25 years on those charges. Family Connections was forced to close because of the embezzlement.
Aponte also pleaded guilty to one count of state jail felony theft for stealing about $5,000 from Hyde Park Christian Church , where she volunteered as treasurer. Kocurek gave her two years for that crime. All the sentences will be served concurrently. Prosecutors said they didn't know how long she will have to serve before she is eligible for parole.
Prosecutor Susan Oswalt said she was satisfied with the plea agreement.
"I feel like her statement showed remorse, and she should show remorse," Oswalt said. "She hurt a lot of members of the community."
Aponte has agreed to forfeit to the state her home in the Circle C subdivision in Southwest Austin , her Mercedes and her boat to repay some of the money she stole. All of those items were paid for, at least partly, with the embezzled money. Prosecutors said the sale will probably generate about $300,000.
Juanita Torres , who worked at Family Connections, said she thought Aponte would get more time for her crimes but said the sentence seemed fair.
"I think this is going to give us some relief, some closure," Torres said.
Aponte's guilty plea wraps up more than a year of drama surrounding Family Connections, which had a $3.1 million-a-year budget and provided education, child care vouchers and other services to families.
The first signs of embezzlement appeared in late 2009 after a state auditor performing a regular review noticed a discrepancy in Family Connections' financial documents. In February 2010 — while state auditors were in the nonprofit's office scrutinizing the books — Aponte said she was going home sick. Instead, she got on a plane and fled to Venezuela.
Over the next week, auditors told Family Connections' board of directors that Aponte had been giving them phony audits. The nonprofit owed the Internal Revenue Service and creditors hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Less than two months later, the charity closed when its funders refused to give it more money. All the employees were laid off. Family Connections filed for bankruptcy, and that case is still winding its way through the courts.
Meanwhile, with Aponte in Venezuela, prosecutors charged her then-husband, Marco Aponte , with money laundering because his name was on bank accounts into which stolen money was funneled. The Apontes have since divorced.
Marco Aponte, whose case is still pending, has maintained that he had nothing to do with the scheme. Louanne Aponte's lawyer, Nate Stark , seemed to support that sentiment on Friday.
"There wasn't anybody else involved," he said.
Aponte returned to Austin in December to face the charges against her. At that time, prosecutors offered her a plea agreement of 40 years, said prosecutor Gregg Cox . But several things changed their minds: the fact that she came back of her own free will, that she cooperated with prosecutors and that as executive director of Family Connections she paid for theft insurance that could help the nonprofit get reimbursed for its losses.
In court Friday, Kocurek said she would honor the plea agreement but was uncomfortable with the arrangement because of the number of transactions involved in the thefts.
"It's unbelievable you were doing this," she told Aponte.
Aponte, who appeared in court wearing a black and gray striped jail uniform, spoke in a strong voice, saying that she knew that some people in the community aren't ready to hear what she has to say but that she wanted to speak from a place of "transparency, honesty and sincerity."
It was a privilege to work beside her colleagues at Family Connections and to worship at Hyde Park Christian Church, she said. She never meant to hurt anyone and is taking full responsibility for her actions, she said.
Aponte said she plans to devote herself in the coming years to healing spiritually, emotionally and mentally "so this tragedy will not define who I am."
She said she will live with the pain of what she did for the rest of her life and promised to come out of prison a better person.
"I will be one of the success stories," she said.

Trial ordered for former SVSU employee charged with embezzling from school, extortion in Michigan

A former Saginaw Valley State University employee charged with embezzling from the school for automobile repairs will stand trial, but not on the charges he initially faced.

Saginaw County District Judge Kyle Higgs Tarrant on Friday ruled that prosecutors showed probable cause to take Gregory D. Coburn, 56, of Bay City to trial in Circuit Court on charges of embezzling over $1,000 but less than $20,000 and extortion.
Prosecutors initially charged Coburn, a 22-year employee of the SVSU, with three counts of embezzlement by a public official.
Roland Bahm, who was the general manager at Firestone Complete Auto Care, 4590 Bay in Saginaw Township, testified at Coburn’s February preliminary hearing that at Coburn’s direction, the repair shop worked on Coburn’s 1996 Chevrolet Blazer twice and 1996 Chevrolet Lumina once and billed SVSU about $1,330 for the expenses.
Bahm, who no longer works at Firestone, said he told Coburn after the August transaction that he did not want to participate in the agreement anymore. Coburn said that if Bahm didn’t follow his request, that he would take SVSU’s business to another Firestone location, Bahm testified.
Bahm said SVSU accounted for 10 percent to 15 percent of his company’s business per month, and Coburn knew that.
After hearing the testimony, Tarrant ruled that Coburn is not a public official and is simply a government employee and said she would amend the charge to reflect that. Prosecutors appealed that decision, and Coburn’s then-attorney, Joseph E. Pergande, appealed prosecutors’ request to add a charge of extortion.
Coburn’s current attorney, Jeffrey J. Rupp, argued Friday that Coburn’s threat was not “pecuniary,” or consisting of money, because if the victim is Bahm, he wouldn’t actually lose any money, and if the victim is Firestone, the company would not lose money because Coburn would have gone to another Firestone business.
“It’s maybe a threat in a loose term, but that doesn’t make it illegal extortion,” Rupp said.
Tarrant disagreed, saying, “The circumstances are such that if (Bahm) didn’t commit a crime for (Coburn’s) own advantage, he would take the business elsewhere.”
The judge also denied the prosecutors’ motion to reconsider her decision to amend the embezzlement charge.
Duggan, who did not participate in the preliminary hearing in February, argued that the public official embezzlement law is “extremely broad.”
He argued that if someone is working for the government, he or she “ultimately is working for someone who is elected.” In the SVSU example, Duggan said, Coburn was working for the state governor, who appoints the Board of Control, who hires the president.
Rupp argued that if the judge were to adopt that theory, there would be no cut-off line. That theory, Rupp argued, could extend to the SVSU students who also work in the motor pool and the Firestone employees who serviced the vehicles.
Tarrant said she doesn’t even view SVSU President Eric R. Gilbertson as a public official.
The members of the Board of Control could be considered public officials, the judge said, “but they are so distant from (Coburn) that he would not be a public official when he was doing this work. I don’t see him in that category.”
With the judge’s decisions, Coburn now faces a stiffer maximum penalty.
The public official embezzlement charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison or a fine of $5,000, while the embezzlement over $1,000 charge carries a maximum of five years or a $10,000 fine. The extortion charge, however, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Because Coburn does not have any prior felony convictions, however, he likely would not face time prison time if convicted.
Coburn remained free today on a $6,000 personal recognizance bond.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Child care worker charged with embezzlement at Bucknell University

An employee of a child care center that operates on Bucknell University’s campus allegedly embezzled up to $12,000 by writing checks and using credit cards from the center.

David Boyd Denbow, 44, of Lewisburg, allegedly made illegal purchases using his designated Sunflower Lewisburg Area Child Care Center credit card at Walmart and Staples totaling $812, according to charging documents filed in District Judge Leo S. Armbruster’s office.
Denbow, an administrative assistant who worked at the center for 11 years, also allegedly wrote 26 checks totaling $10,758 to himself by forging the signature of Alice P. Reitenbach, the center’s director, the documents state.
The thefts date to June, according to court documents.
Officers from the university’s Department of Public Safety on April 20 interviewed Denbow, who allegedly admitted to making the credit card purchases and forging the checks.
The university leases the space to the center and provides some services in exchange for priority in placing a number of children of faculty and staff, but Sunflower is separately incorporated, said Tom Evelyn, the school’s director of news and media relations.
“As such, its business operation and financial controls are independent of Bucknell, and the workers there are employed by Sunflower, not the university,” he said.
Denbow, who is no longer employed at the center, told police he was “scared” and that he “did more than his share of work and covered for other people.”
“There were certain things that popped up that I just didn’t have the income for, and I knew what I was doing was wrong,” he told police, according to court documents.
He also told police he was feeling “let down” at work. He said he has been ashamed to show his face in town since being fired.
“Denbow stated that he was so sorry and regretful for what he did,” police said in the court documents. “Denbow stated that he was going to beg for mercy from God and whoever.”
A preliminary hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. June 23 in Armbruster’s office.

Former Monte Vista, California Coach Must Stand Trial On Embezzlement Charges

Larry Rinehart is charged with grand theft of personal property, grand theft by an employee, and fraudulent appropriation by an employee.
Former Monte Vista High School baseball coach Larry Rinehart will stand trail on three felony counts stemming from his handling of funds raised by the team's booster club during his 5-year stint heading the Monarchs program.

Rinehart, 59, who resigned from his teaching position at Helix Charter High School just prior to his indictment, is accused of and charged with grand theft of personal property, grand theft by an employee, and fraudulent appropriation by an employee.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Lantz Lewis ruled there was sufficient evidence following Tuesday's preliminary hearing, which lasted more than four hours after the District Attorney's office offered more than 100 pieces of evidence.
Included was a statement allegedly signed by Rinehart noting the embezzlement of more than $15,000 from a bank ATM, most of it gambled away at area casinos, according to a statement read in court by Chris Jensen, a private investigator working the case.
However, Lewis dismissed grand theft charged against Rinehart's wife, Margaret, 57.
Ironically, Larry Rinehart taught business-related courses including accounting, money matters and personal finance, including a section on business ethics at Helix. He coached at Monte Vista from 2003-07, but the accusation of stealing from the Grossmont Union High School District ranges only from Jan. 1, 2005 to July 17, 2007.
He faces a maximum up to three years in state prison if convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Daniel Shim. Lewis has yet to set a trial date.

Former Clinton, Iowa School Worker Admits To Embezzlement

A former Clinton Community School District office manager pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling from the district and other schools. 37-year-old Denisa Babcock of Camanche now faces up to ten years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and possibly restitution.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Babcock admitted that from November 2005 to December 2009 she stole checks and cash belonging to the Clinton Community School District and deposited them into personal bank accounts for her own use. The investigation began last year when the school district discovered it was missing about $1.2 million.
In addition, officials say Babcock deposited $49,000 into her personal bank account that was collected from other school districts through her private E-rate business.
Authorities say Babcock used the stolen money to help pay off her home mortgage and personal student loans, fund retirement plans, and purchase a boat, vehicles, real property, and numerous personal items.
As part of the plea agreement, she will have to give up assets, money and property.
A sentencing date has not been set, but she goes back to federal court in August.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ex-parent group officer pleads no contest to theft in California

A former president of a San Jose school's parent-teacher organization has pleaded no contest to charges that she stole $50,000 from the group.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that 40-year-old Vanessa Reyes entered her plea to felony grand theft Thursday in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Authorities say Reyes used a debit card belonging to the Trace Elementary School group to withdraw cash and make unauthorized purchases, including clothing, trips and meals. The embezzlement was discovered after a new treasurer noticed the unusual charges.
Under terms of a plea deal, Reyes will be sentenced to as much as one year in jail. Prosecutors say she's already paid back the amount stolen, plus interest.
Authorities say former treasurer Anne Zingale also made unauthorized purchases on the card. She's due in court next month

Thousands embezzled from Warren, Michigan church

The 76-year-old former treasurer of a Warren church committed a sin that could land her in prison for up to 15 years, police and prosecutors say.

Officials allege that Helen Gvozdic of Roseville embezzled more than $79,000 from St. Stevan Decanski Serbian Orthodox Church, located on 11 Mile Road. She also is one of the church’s founding members.
Police reviewed more than 100 pages of church financial documents, including ledgers, bank records, canceled checks and receipts, before presenting the case to the Macomb County Prosecutors Office for review.
Gvozdic faces one count of embezzlement of more than $50,000 but less than $100,000. In addition to incarceration, the felony offense also is punishable by a $25,000 fine or an amount equal to three times the dollars in question.
“I feel I’m not guilty. That’s why I’m here,” she told The Macomb Daily on Tuesday at 37th District Court, where her scheduled preliminary exam was adjourned.
The probable-cause hearing was rescheduled to May 31 before Judge Dawnn Gruenburg.
Gvozdic said the accusations by church officials against her started at $20,000, increased to $50,000, jumped to $100,000 and that some church members think she took $250,000.
“It’s always different,” she added.
Church members including the new treasurer declined to comment for this report.
According to court records, the embezzlement occurred between January 2008 and December 2009. She later resigned.
Warren Detective Cpl. Brian Kajewski said Gvozdic was responsible for depositing church funds into the bank. He said the missing money stems from checks remitted to “cash.”
Kajewski said church members brought their suspicions to the attention of Warren police in May 2010.
“The church had set up a review board when this happened, a panel of church members that have gone over the receipts,” he said.
But records were written in Serbian. In the following months, Gvozdic traveled to Chicago where she maintained her innocence, during meetings with top officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Those leaders later met with members of St. Stevan Decanski church.
A few months ago, a forensic account who studied the financial records turned the documents, translated to English, over to Warren police.
Kajewski said Gvozdic agreed to be interviewed by him during the investigation. He said she denied any wrongdoing and that she claimed she had provided all receipts. When she was told weeks later that the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office had authorized a warrant against her, she promptly turned herself in at Warren police headquarters earlier this month.
The Roseville woman has remained free on a personal recognizance bond.
Defense attorney Earl Adamaszek declined to comment Tuesday because he had not yet read any police reports.
Adamaszek was appointed to represent Gvozdic at taxpayer expense. Defendants who request a court-appointed lawyer must show they are indigent. The Roseville woman claims she lives in an apartment paying over $400 rent, is not employed, has no money in the bank and drives a 2007 Dodge Avenger, according to court records.

West Virginia Booster Club Treasurer found guilty of embezzlement

Calling her actions "a despicable act of greed against children," Judge David W. Hummel, Jr., sentenced defendant Sherry Frey to one to 10 years in a West Virginia state prison for women in Tyler County Circuit Court on Thursday, May 12. Hummel then suspended her sentence and placed Frey on two years supervised probation.

"You stole from kids, didn't you?" Hummel insisted, after the defendant equivocated about her guilt when accepting a plea agreement. Frey pleaded guilty to one count felony embezzlement, finally admitting she had stolen thousands of dollars from the Tyler Consolidated Middle School's Athletic Booster Club. Making excuses for her behavior, Frey aroused the ire of the judge, who remarked, "That's the biggest pack of lies I've ever heard."
Frey, who made a partial restitution in the amount of $1,200 in court Thursday, was accused of stealing several thousands of dollars while serving as treasurer for the TCMS Athletic Booster's Club.
"Do you have a gambling problem?" asked Judge Hummel. Frey replied she did not. The money stolen was suspected to be in the amount of almost $9,000. Poor record-keeping made it impossible to determine how much money actually went missing, but Frey admitted to taking "a couple of thousand" dollars. The court ordered Frey to reimburse the club another $800 in addition to the $1,200 received.
"It's hard to believe someone would have the nerve to steal money from the Middle School Athletic Boosters. Many of us gladly give our time and labor to the school and desire nothing in return," commented Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee. "I'm happy we were able to get some of it back today."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Former Alabama school financial officer pleads guilty to embezzlement

Authorities say a former financial officer of the Ozark City Board of Education has been sentenced to two years in jail after pleading guilty to misusing public funds.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced Monday that 53-year-old Monica Baker Foote will be placed in the Dale County Community Corrections Program.
Foote was sentenced after pleading guilty to one count of intentionally using her official position for unlawful personal gain of money and one count of first-degree theft of property from the Ozark City School Board in money or checks valued at more than $2,500.
An audit found that Foote had embezzled about $97,000 from the school board.
She was ordered to pay more than $102,000 in restitution to the Ozark City Board of Education.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Virginia Church secretary charged with embezzlement

A small church sitting on a country road in Suffolk is out more than $20,000. Former church secretary Stephanie Bailey is accused of using her church issued ATM card to drain the bank account.

"The majority of the transactions were found to have occurred in Chesapeake in the Greenbriar area," says Police Spokeswoman Debbie George.
Debbie George tells NewsChannel 3 from November of 2006 to the middle of last year Bailey would visit several bank ATMs and take out small amounts of cash.
What she did with the money is unknown. Police say church pastor Antonio Gardner Senior and other leaders noticed what was going on but they didn't report it to police until November of last year. A lot of time passed before they reported it to the police.

"July is when they first discovered the transactions that had been going on and November is when it was reported to police," says Debbie.
On April 20, 2011, Virginia Beach police took Bailey in to custody after the warrants were sent there. Neighbors say she lives at a home on Chestnut Court and NewsChannel 3 tried twice to get in touch with her, but we were waved off by someone inside.
Today NewsChannel 3 had a chance to speak with Pastor Gardner's brother in law and he didn't want to go on camera. He says he didn't feel comfortable about it but he did say that the church community and the entire family are shocked about the embezzlement case but still they have forgiven Stephanie Bailey.
NewsChannel 3 also tried to get in touch with Pastor Gardner at his job today, but he was not available to talk. Now a former church secretary is charged as the close-knit community tries to recover from the massive loss

Minnesota pastor charged with stealing more than $60,000 from church

An Inver Grove Heights pastor has reportedly embezzled more than $60,000 from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church Synod over multiple years.

Leon Edwill Piepenbrink, 51, of St. Paul, was charged May 4 in Dakota County District Court with seven counts of theft-by-swindle for reportedly fabricating expenses and stealing money from the church.
Attempts by the Review to reach Piepenbrink to ask about the charges facing him were unsuccessful.
According to a criminal complaint, in August of last year, Inver Grove Heights Police received a complaint of theft involving Piepenbrink. During an investigation of the report, police found Piepenbrink was a pastor employed by WELS and had his office at the Shepherd of the Hills Church, located in Inver Grove Heights. WELS is the third-largest Lutheran church body in the U.S., has more than 1,200 congregations as members and prides itself on missions and evangelism.
Piepenbrink was a former Asian ministry coordinator from 2005 to 2010, according to a press release from the Milwaukee-based church synod.
During that time, Piepenbrink mentored Hmong leaders and pastors in Inver Grove Heights.
Church members reportedly grew suspicious of Piepenbrink last summer after he told them members of the community he was working with were threatening his safety. Piepenbrink requested reimbursement for expenditures related to security systems, bulletproof glass and for the purchase of a gun.
Piepenbrink also reportedly told church officials he had been shot at by the occupant of another vehicle as he was driving on Highway 55 near Hastings June 16, 2010. As a result of Piepenbrink's statements, church officials began investigating his monetary claims.
During questioning about the fabrications, Piepenbrink admitted he stole money from the church, according to the complaint.
How much money is missing isn't exactly clear, however.
The complaint states that Piepenbrink, who had access to two separate church funds, siphoned money from church accounts beginning in 2007 and ending in 2010 after the church terminated him from his position. In 2007, he allegedly took more than $2,500 for personal use. From May to October 2008, he allegedly stole more than $35,000. Over the next two years, he reportedly took more than $56,000, for a total of about $62,500.
However, Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom estimates the total amount could be in excess of $100,000.
"It's a significant sum of money we're alleging he misappropriated," Backstrom said. "When someone steals over $50,000, it's considered a major economic crime."
Backstrom added that embezzlement of such large sums isn't a crime that's all that uncommon.
"In the last five years, we've charged 12 individuals in Dakota County with stealing in excess of $100,000."
However, Backstrom said, in his experience, an individual stealing substantial amounts of money from churches is rare.
"We've never seen a theft of this nature from a faith community in Dakota County," he said.
Backstrom said to get to five or six figures in theft, embezzlers are usually part of large organizations that might have errors in their bookkeeping, which allows the theft to occur longer before it's spotted.
Todd Poppe, WELS chief financial officer said in a statement that the alleged swindle by Piepenbrink was a "unique and isolated incident in which someone had direct access to synod funds without proper protocols and oversight."
Poppe said once WELS became aware of the apparent misappropriation of funds several months ago, the synod reviewed with its boards for world and home missions whether there were any other funds without appropriate internal controls, but none were identified.
If Piepenbrink is convicted, Backstrom said Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for a nearly two-year prison sentence, and Piepenbrink would be called on to pay back the entire amount he allegedly stole, coupled with fines imposed by the court.

Trial date set for teacher accused of embezzlement in Pennsylvania

A court date of May 12 has been set in the case of Samantha Brown, 30, of Carlisle, the former West Perry High School music teacher accused of embezzling more than $3,000 from the Musical Booster Club.

The affidavit of probable cause, filed by the investigating officer, state police trooper Steven Strawser, stated that “Brown acknowledged taking monies from the account for personal use,” during a meeting between Strawser and Brown on Feb. 25.
Brown said she had fallen on tough financial times after her husband was out of work for an extended period of time. She began accessing monies from the West Perry Booster Club account to help make ends meet, and things got “out of control,” according to Strawser’s account recorded on the affidavit of probable cause.
Brown is charged with taking a total of $3,360 from the booster club.
Suspicion arose when she inquired about using the MAC card for the boosters’ account for out-of-country purchases while on a cruise vacation.
Another affidavit of probable cause was filed on March 3.
According to the documents, West Perry High School principal Christopher Rahn said Brown “presented a treasury activity slip and WP Musical Boosters Club account from the WPHS Chorus Activity Fund” on Jan. 20.
On Jan. 24, according to the affidavit, Brown “was given a check for $500 from the WP School District SR High Activity Fund. She deposited the check in the boosters’ account.”
Police allege Brown had been making unauthorized transactions since June 2010.
The affidavit stated Brown continued to make unauthorized withdrawals after making deposits.
At the time of the $500 deposit, the balance should have been around $3,000. The affidavit said that there was only $51.50 in the account.
Brown was denied access to the accounts on Feb. 15.
Superintendent of West Perry School District, Dr. Rhonda Brunner, said Brown resigned in March

Friday, May 13, 2011

Woman pleads guilty to stealing from youth hockey organization in Arizona.

A former acting treasurer for the Arizona High School Hockey Association accused of

embezzling at least $500,000 from the group has pleaded guilty to theft and

forgery.Maricopa County prosecutors said Thursday

that 48-year-old Mary Ann Williams is scheduled to be sentenced June 13. She was

arrested in August 2010.
Williams began volunteering for the northeast Phoenix organization in 2003. An

investigation into Williams began in early 2010 when the association contacted police

about concerns she was stealing money.Police say Williams apparently began

embezzling money from the organization in 2005 and continued until she was removed

from the acting treasurer's post in 2010.

Williams also was accused of issuing checks to herself, making electronic payments from

the association's bank account and using its debit card for personal purchases.

Former St. Mary's school volunteer charge in embezzlement in Virginia

A former volunteer with the Parent Teacher Organization at St. Mary’s Catholic School in western Henrico County faces a preliminary hearing in June on embezzlement charges.

The school declined comment on details, but Henrico police said about $5,500 was allegedly obtained by Alyson Banks, 32, through credit cards.
Banks lives in the 400 block of Kingscote Lane. Concerns about Banks were first reported to police last fall.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finance Officer Jailed for Embezzling from Va. Church

A former financial officer has been sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling more than $280,000 from a Virginia Beach church.

Michele Moeser Roberts pleaded guilty last December to felony embezzlement. Prosecutors say the 62-year-old Roberts wrote herself checks and gave false financial statements to the treasurer at Kings Grant Baptist Church.
Media outlets report that Roberts was sentenced Wednesday in Virginia Beach Circuit Court. Judge Leslie L. Lilley sentenced Roberts to 20 years and then suspended 16 years of the term.
Roberts also must make restitution.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


A criminal complaint was filed late yesterday charging Rhayda Barnes-Thomas, age 40, of Accokeek, Maryland, with theft concerning a federal government program and making false statements in connection with a scheme to use federal funds received by her school employer to buy technology items used for herself, her family and friends. Barnes-Thomas is scheduled to have an initial appearance today at 4:15 p.m. in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jillyn K. Schulze.

The complaint was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Steven D. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Department of Education – Office of Inspector General; and Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey.
The U.S. Department of Education provides federal funding, known as Title I grants, to public school districts with enrollment of low-income families to help ensure that all children meet appropriate academic standards. Typical uses of Title I funding include purchasing equipment for classroom education. According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, since approximately 2006, Barnes-Thomas has been the Title I coordinator for the Charles County (Maryland) Public Schools (the County Schools), assigned to manage the County Schools’ Title I funding, including overseeing the purchases of technology equipment for use in classrooms paid for with federal funds.
According to the affidavit, in October 2010, school officials began investigating four missing Apple laptop computers belonging to the County Schools that had been purchased using Title I funds. Two of these computers had been taken without authorization by two school employees and subsequently recovered. However, two remained missing. A senior school official asked Barnes-Thomas whether she had ever purchased Apple laptops with Title I funds, and Barnes-Thomas denied ever doing so.
The affidavit alleges that on December 20, 2010, a box with the two remaining missing Apple laptop computers was found on the sidewalk adjacent to a County Schools building. The box had been placed there anonymously. Also inside the box was a newspaper article referencing the County Schools’ investigation of the missing laptop computers.
The affidavit further alleges that immediately thereafter, senior school officials performed an audit which revealed highly unusual purchases of technology equipment using Title I funds, including multiple Nintendo Wii video game consoles, Nintendo Wii games, Sony PlayStation 3 consoles, Apple products (including iPods, iPads, and Macbook computers) and televisions. Law enforcement agents subsequently discovered that documentation purporting to contain signatures of Barnes-Thomas’ supervisor approving these purchases had been forged. An internal audit by the County Schools allegedly revealed over 200 items at a cost of over $100,000 purchased with Title I funding that are presently unaccounted for. The vast majority of these items are alleged to have been purchased under Barnes-Thomas’ name.
According to the affidavit, in January and March 2011, law enforcement agents executed two search warrants at the residence of Barnes-Thomas and a third search warrant at the home of a family member. Agents seized multiple items purchased using Title I funds, including: an Apple MacBook Pro, two televisions, three Apple iPods, a Nintendo Wii game system and a GPS device. Additionally, a witness allegedly advised law enforcement that Barnes-Thomas provided multiple technology items as gifts to the witness and her children.
On March 11, 2011, Barnes-Thomas agreed to participate in a voluntary interview with law enforcement in which she allegedly denied that the Apple Macbook computer found with a family member was purchased with Title I funding. Barnes-Thomas also allegedly provided a receipt purporting to establish that she had legitimately purchased a television in November 2010 at a retail store in Waldorf, Maryland.
Barnes-Thomas faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for theft; and a maximum sentence of five years in prison for making false statements

Friday, May 6, 2011

Warrant issued for treasurer who bilked church in Massachusetts

The former treasurer of the Seventh Day Adventist Church is being sought by Lawrence police for stealing $106,570 from the church at 54 Salem St.

Police have issued a warrant for Raiffeisen Regalado, 41, for larceny and embezzlement.
Church pastor Domingo Francisco told investigating officer Det. Kevin T. Nigohosian the church contacted the police in 2008 but no charges were filed then because Regalado made an agreement with church officials to pay back the money.
"We tried to talk to him as Christians and he promised to pay it all," Francisco said yesterday. "When he didn't, we had to find other means."
Police Chief John Romero said police are trying to locate Regalado, whose last known address was 46 Cypress Ave., Methuen.
"There's nothing worse than stealing from a church," Romero said.
"It's a real shame because this money was given by members of the congregation for its upkeep."
Nigohosian met with Francisco on Wednesday and the pastor gave Nigohosian a 412-page binder with transactions from Sovereign Bank for 2006-2007, the same time period Regalado served as treasurer.
After an internal audit in 2008, church officials discovered Regalado had made 172 transfers from the church account to his personal account for a total of $106,570, Nigohosian wrote in the report.
Seventy-one transactions were made in 2006 for a total of $53,020 and 101 transfers were made in 2007, for $53,550.
Nigohosian wrote in his report, he contacted the bank and was told Regalado's personal account "was no longer active."
The case at Seventh Day Adventist is the second church embezzlement in the area in about a year.
In January, 2010, Pastor Isaias Rivera was arrested for writing and cashing a total of $102,732 checks from the church's account from 2004 to 2009.
His wife, Viviana cashed three checks in 2005 totaling $24,500, and secretary Kizzella Rivera, (no relation) wrote checks for herself and cashed them for the total sum of $9,500.
The case against the Riveras is still under investigation.


Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a Warrensburg, Mo., woman has pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing nearly $140,000 from a church and a church organization in a securities fraud scheme.

Mary Earlene Judd, 60, of Warrensburg, waived her right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs on Thursday, April 21, 2011, to a federal information that charges her with forging the security instruments of an organization.
Judd served as treasurer for both the Missouri Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church in Knob Noster, Mo. The Missouri Presbytery is a governing organization of 25 Presbyterian churches in Missouri, including Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church. As treasurer, Judd had the authority to sign checks and paid bills and expenses.
Judd admitted that she stole money from Missouri Presbytery and from Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church by overstating her reimbursements for the cost of supplies she purchased, and wrote reimbursement checks for supplies that were never purchased. She also overstated or fabricated mileage and expenses for travel expenses and trips she never took. Judd admitted that she wrote checks to herself as well as to her husband and daughter, forged their names on the back of the checks and deposited the checks into her personal bank account.
Judd wrote $68,878 in checks from the Missouri Presbytery accounts and $51,045 in checks from the Pleasant Grove account for fictitious expenses or services, which were reported on the check memo line as salary, supplies, trip expenses, mileage, mowing, repairs and maintenance. Judd also made out checks to cash from the two accounts totaling $26,525, for a total loss of $139,734. Judd repaid some of the money, bringing the actual loss to $125,159.
Under federal statutes, Judd is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office

Newport News, Virginia schools secretary charged with embezzlement

Police charged a schools secretary today with embezzling $8,000 from the district's television station, according to a news release.

Sandra Sparks, 49, was suspended without pay today after police charged her with 17 counts of forgery, 17 counts of uttering and one count of embezzlement for incidents that occurred between July 2010 to April 2011, according to a police news release and the school system.
Sparks was hired as a secretary in November 2007 for the academic services department in the school administration building, said schools spokeswoman Michelle Price. She became secretary in the telecommunications center in July 2009.
On April 19, she was placed on administrative leave after a banking institution informed school officials there wasn't enough money in its account to cover a cashed check, Price said.
That same day, school officials notified police, who began a criminal investigation.
The telecommunications center houses the district's television station and an instructional program for high school students. The funds police said were embezzled had been set aside to buy headsets, microphones and other equipment for students to use at the station, the news release stated.
Sparks was arrested at her home in the 2900 block of Armistead Avenue, and is in custody at the Newport News City Jail.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

LAKE ELSINORE, CALIFORNIA: Ex-schools spokesman arrested on suspicion of embezzlement

former spokesman for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of embezzlement, online jail records show.

Authorities began investigating Jose Manuel Carvajal Jr., 30, after school district officials discovered nearly $5,000 missing from a bank account to which Carvajal and other members of the district's administrative team had access.
Investigators said last month that the former employee made 14 unauthorized ATM withdrawals totaling $4,909.54 between Dec. 23, 2010, and Jan. 21, 2011, from the Lake Elsinore Administrators and Professions account at Wells Fargo bank.
According to a court document, Carvajal told investigators that he had a personal account at the bank and was unaware the accounts had been linked.
In November, Carvajal resigned from the school district to take a job as a spokesman for the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District.
Carvajal previously worked as a reporter at The Californian.
Jail records show that Carvajal was released after posting $5,000 bail. He was ordered to appear at the courthouse in French Valley on June 28.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Former North Carolina Pastor Accused of Embezzling from Church

A former pastor in Rockingham County has been charged with stealing from his own church.

John Albert Jackson, 61, of 5335 Lewey Lane in Winston-Salem, was arrested Tuesday and charged with one felony count of embezzlement.
On April 10, a Dell computer was reported stolen from the Goodwill First Baptist Church on K-Fork Road in Madison. During the investigation of the stolen computer, Rockingham County sheriff's deputies discovered the church's former pastor had illegally obtained automobile insurance for several Cadillac automobiles without prior approval of the church.
The vehicles illegally insured include a 2006 Cadillac SRX, a 2008 Cadillac Escalade, a 2004 Cadillac Deville, a 2006 Cadillac DTS and a 2009 Cadillac CTS. The alleged offenses happened between February 2004 and March 2011. The amount of insurance premiums paid was $10,982.
According to the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, Jackson was recently removed from his position at the church.
Jackson was placed in jail on a $10,000 secured bond. His court date is set for May 5 in Wentworth District Court.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Former University President Indicted for Embezzling $1.5 Million in Kansas City

Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that the former president and CEO of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCUMB) has been indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling more than $1.5 million from the university. The alleged fraud scheme included unauthorized compensation payments as well as reimbursements from the university for personal expenses and fraudulent charitable contributions. The indictment also charges her with tax violations and money laundering.

Karen L. Pletz, 63, of Kansas City, Mo., was charged in a 24-count indictment that was returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, March 30. Pletz was the president and CEO of KCUMB and was a member of the board of trustees of KCUMB from 1995 until December 2009. The federal indictment was unsealed and made public today following Pletz’s initial court appearance.
The federal indictment describes a scheme in which Pletz embezzled from KCUMB by wrongfully receiving $1,525,791 in payments from the osteopathic medicine and life sciences school.
The federal indictment charges Pletz with 16 counts of stealing from the university, one count of attempting to interfere with the administration of internal revenue, three counts of making false statements on tax returns, and four counts of money laundering.

Unauthorized Pay: $1,409,500

The federal indictment alleges that Pletz wrongfully obtained $1,409,500 from KCUMB in unauthorized additional pay for herself from October 2002 to December 2009. Pletz allegedly caused minutes of KCUMB executive committee meetings to be created when the meetings did not actually occur. Minutes for nine meetings were allegedly created, at which the only business ever reported was to purportedly authorize payments to Pletz. These payments were sometimes referred to as “leadership stipends” or “leadership compensation,” the indictment says, and were usually in the form of $65,000 lump sum payments.

Travel and Entertainment Reimbursements: $50,291

The federal indictment alleges that Pletz submitted numerous fraudulent vouchers to receive reimbursements from KCUMB. These vouchers allegedly claimed business purposes for expenditures, when in reality the expenditures were for her personal travel and entertainment.
The indictment alleges that in 2007 Pletz received reimbursements for personal travel to Harbor Beach Marriott Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to visit her parents; to Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to visit a friend; and to Wild Dunes Resort, Isle of Palms in Charleston, S.C., to visit high school friends. Pletz allegedly received an $11,846 reimbursement for items purchased at a Vera Wang boutique at Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. Pletz allegedly did not declare the $50,291 total income she received from KCUMB as a result of these reimbursements on her federal income tax returns.
According to the indictment, Pletz received a total of $1,074,917 in unreported income from disallowed travel and entertainment claims, which led to a tax loss to the United States of at least $280,000.

Charitable Reimbursements: $65,000

The federal indictment alleges that Pletz signed and filed tax returns for 2003 through 2006 in which she falsely claimed itemized deductions for charitable contributions that she did not make. In reality, the indictment says, KCUMB—not Pletz—actually made the contributions. According to the indictment, Pletz claimed $565,628 worth of fraudulent charitable deductions to such organizations as the United Way, Lyric Opera, the Deron Cherry Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Truman Medical Center.
Among those fraudulent charitable contributions, the indictment says, was $65,000 in contributions to Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kan., actually made by KCUMB. Pletz allegedly received reimbursements from KCUMB for those contributions over a three-year period, but failed to report the $65,000 as income.
In February 2004, the indictment says, Pletz pledged $20,000 to Benedictine, and requested that Benedictine use her home address for all correspondence regarding the gift. In March 2004, Pletz allegedly submitted to KCUMB a claim for reimbursement for $20,000, attaching to the claim a copy of her personal check in the amount of $20,000, made payable to Benedictine College. KCUMB paid Pletz $20,000. However, according to the indictment, Benedictine never received Pletz’s personal check and the check never cleared her bank account. In June 2004, at Pletz’s direction, Benedictine charged Pletz’s KCUMB credit card $10,000 in two installments. Pletz allegedly claimed this $20,000 donation as a charitable contribution deduction on her 2004 tax return, but did not claim the $20,000 income she received from the fraudulent reimbursement. This scheme was repeated in 2005 with another $20,000 fraudulent claim for reimbursement for KCUMB’s contribution to Benedictine, the indictment says, and in 2006 with a $25,000 fraudulent claim for reimbursement for KCUMB’s contribution to the college.

Money Laundering

The indictment charges Pletz with four counts of money laundering related to monetary transactions in criminally derived property, with the funds having been derived from an unlawful activity. On four separate occasions, Pletz allegedly transferred funds obtained by theft from her bank account to American Express or, on one occasion, to an individual for the purchase of antiques.


The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require Pletz to forfeit to the government any property derived from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including a 2002 Lexus convertible and $39,337 from her bank account, which were seized by federal agents on Oct. 7, 2010, when they executed seizure warrants under a federal civil forfeiture, as well as an $830,000 money judgment and Pletz’s condominium on the Plaza.
Phillips cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kate Mahoney and Linda Parker Marshall. It was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General -Investigations.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Couple accused of stealing almost $2 million from Vassar College

Arthur Fisher was led from Town of Poughkeepsie Court after police accuse Fisher and his wife, Jennifer, of stealing nearly $2 million from Vassar College

"It is the largest amount of money that I have ever encountered in any criminal charge that I can remember," said Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department Captain Paul Lecomte.
Investigators say Fisher takes the money while working as a construction project manager at Vassar from 2005 to 2010. School officials are tipped off a little more than a month ago when they notice numbers not adding up with some of Fisher's projects.
"And it put up a red flag and we looked further in to it," Vassar College spokesman Jeff Kosmacher said.
Town of Poughkeepsie Police say Fisher uses a phony construction company the couple set up as a front. Investigators say they deposit $1.9 million into its bank account, with the money coming from construction project budgets Fisher is managing.
"When we discover that there is a possibility that someone is doing something against the trust that we cultivate here, it really has thrown us for a loop," Kosmacher said.
Both of the Fishers were arrested Friday and police seized several cars, unlicensed guns and phony law enforcement Identification from their home in Westchester County. Investigators say they are looking into why the Fishers had the items.
Jennifer Fisher is out on bail and Arthur Fisher is in Dutchess County Jail.