Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bookkeeper's theft and betrayal can't be repaid in Illinois


There's no way Katherine Capponi can ever pay back what she stole from her community.
I'm not talking about just the $1.2 million the 74-year-old grandmother pilfered as an office worker at the Roanoke-Benson school district. Her savings and investment accounts can cover about a fifth of the loss. But what about the rest? After prison - four years minimum - where does a 78-year-old ex-con get hired? Can she work as a Walmart greeter until she earns almost $1 million to make full restitution?
Fat chance. But that's not the only gaping shortfall left in the wake of Capponi's hoodwinking taxpayers and friends. Her decade-long scheme and shocking arrest made folly of the district, which blithely but blindly had trusted the 42-year bookkeeper and administrative assistant. Along the way, her sly selfishness forced the budget-strapped district to slash jobs.
"There were people here hurt by those cuts, and there were people hurt by her betrayal," says Rohn Peterson, superintendent of Community Unit School District 60.
His comment answers at least one of the many questions resounding in the rural Woodford County school district since Capponi's startling arrest in June. Ever since, some observers have asked, "How can you throw a grandmother behind bars?" But such softhearted sentiment crumbles under the hard facts that finally came out this week at Capponi's sentencing, a testament to her jaw-dropping gall and greed.
For one, the sum is staggering. She'd been charged with a felony, theft of government property worth at least $100,000. That was stupefying enough, to think that the smiling school secretary would back-stab her neighbors and bilk the district for so much money.
Yet the sum turned out to be nearly 12 times worse: $1,189,000. How did she pull that off? As revealed in court this week, she'd write checks to herself on the district account, then intercept and alter the returned checks to make them look legitimate. There was no oversight: who would suspect such a trusted employee?
"There was one blind spot that we had not been aware of, and neither had our auditors," says Peterson.
This went on for 10 years, with checks mostly ranging from $100 to $400. Wow. That's a lot of checks. At an average of $250 per transaction, that would be about 4,800 checks. Woodford County State's Attorney Greg Minger tells me she didn't write that many checks, but the number was in the thousands.
But say there were around 3,000 checks. Over 10 years, that's about one check per working day. I'm not saying that's exactly what happened. But that kind of ballpark figure show that this long-term swindle was something like a full-time job - and carried a handsome payoff.
Though Capponi spent most of the dough - almost $950,000 - she never showed any change in her middle-class lifestyle. She and her husband, Norman Capponi, long have lived in an average, $137,000 home in the middle of Roanoke. And nothing there seemed to change over the past decade.
"No one would have suspected anything," Peterson says.
In hindsight, observers ponder the couple and perhaps the most elusive piece of this puzzle: didn't her husband know about her pocketing an extra $100,000-plus per year? No, says prosecutor Minger.
"It appears they lived very separate lives," Minger says. "They had separate accounts, and they were rarely seen together."
On Wednesday, Norman Capponi politely declined to comment about his wife's case.
"It's too early," he told me. "Maybe sometime down the road. But not right now."
As far as investigators could tell, he did not accompany Katherine Capponi on multiple plane trips to visit kinfolk in Texas. Or join her at a great many dining-out excursions. Or help her buy scads of gifts for grandchildren and others.
Facing six to 30 years if convicted, Capponi decided to no longer court risk. She opted for a plea Tuesday that put her sentence at eight years, which she started serving immediately after the hearing. With good behavior, she'll get out in four years.
Minger agreed to a term on the low end of the sentencing range because Capponi agreed to fork over $235,000 in restitution within 30 days. That's the amount she has in various savings and investment accounts. Minger says he isn't sure if that money came from her salary or the thefts.
"But it doesn't matter," he says. "It's ours now."
By ours, he means Roanoke-Benson school district. Peterson says the money will go into the district's working-cash fund, which can go toward educational and other costs. He says the money will stay put until needed.
Since the arrest, the district has instituted safeguards to avid a Capponi-like repeat. But over the past several years, lean times forced the district to slash the art program, a part-time art teacher and several other positions. Had Capponi not ripped off the district, students might have had better educations.
"We had to tighten our belts," Peterson says. "We've lost some other positions that in retrospect might not have had to happen."
As for the rest of the stolen money? "The chances of recovering that are few and slim, unfortunately," he says.
Minger agrees further restitution is unlikely. Capponi has two years after imprisonment - at age 80, at the earliest - to make good with the district. If she doesn't, criminal law would allow a prosecutor little leeway, just the filing of a contempt-of-court charge. But Capponi owns little of value, so that threat would do little to prompt restitution.
The school district could attempt a civil suit. Theoretically, a judge could order her belongings be auctioned, with proceeds going to the district. Again, she owns almost nothing. There's the house, but it's also in her husband's name, so a judge would be unlikely to boot him out and sell it.
Otherwise, she owns clothes, and that's about it.
"I guess they could auction her clothes," Minger says, not enthused. "That's not much money."
Nope. Not anymore. Not much of anything all.

No comments:

Post a Comment