Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Year-old Grace Chapel embezzlement investigation going to DA soon

Nearly a year after Grace Chapel Church in Sanford reported an embezzlement of $200,000 over a six-year period, the State Bureau of Investigations is hopeful the case will be delivered to the district attorney “within the next couple of months.”

The investigation — originally launched by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 30 of last year — was handed over to the State Bureau of Investigations in March because of “extenuating circumstances,” Sheriff Tracy Carter said at the time. The case is being handled by the SBI’s Financial Crimes Unit, according to SBI spokeswoman Theresa West.

“The investigation is ongoing, [and] interviews are still being conducted,” said West, who provided the “next couple of months” timeframe. “We will not further comment on the investigation at this time.”

Grace Chapel Operations Director Bill Carver, who’s listed as a victim along with the church in the original embezzlement charge, also said he couldn’t comment on the investigation Monday.

Grace Chapel, located on U.S. 1 just south of the Tramway area, is one of Sanford’s largest churches and is home to Grace Christian School, a K-12 institution founded in 1970. The church moved into a new facility in 2007, three years after a fire damaged its previous chapel. The new building, coinciding with the economic downturn in 2007, marked the beginning of the church’s financial struggles, the Sanford Herald reported in 2013. The new facility added an additional 44,000 square feet of space, including an auditorium, classrooms and administrative space for the church and school.

In November of 2013, pastor Rudy Holland announced his retirement, and the church announced it was dismissing its executive pastor Tim Murr, brother of current pastor Joel Murr, as a cost-saving measure.

Neither were listed in last January’s embezzlement report, though Holland’s previous church in Virginia was the subject of another embezzlement investigation of nearly $4 million in the 1980s. He was pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Virginia, which went to the FBI in 1988 to investigate the $3.8 million in debt it compiled after issuing unsecured bonds and savings certificates to congregation members who were “encouraged from the pulpit to keep rolling over the investments,” according to the Roanoke Times & World. Holland was the church’s business manager when the congregation’s money was taken, according to published reports.

Virginia state and local authorities found no evidence of embezzlement against Holland or Berean Baptist Church, and the church filed for bankruptcy soon after the ruling. Holland today is active in social media and is listed on Facebook as pastor of PRH Ministries, a non-profit, faith based ministry.

Restitution hearing held for woman charged with embezzlement

The Negaunee woman who pleaded guilty to embezzlement last week was back in court on Tuesday.

Noelle Johnson had a restitution hearing for embezzlement in Marquette County Circuit Court. Johnson previously pleaded guilty to a felony charge of embezzlement of $1,000 to $20,000 from a non-profit.

She also entered a guilty plea to one misdemeanor embezzlement charge.

Evergreen Christian Church members testified she used church money to cover personal credit card bills among other expenses.

"We found that there were internet, cell phone and house phone expenses that were being charged and paid by the church funds," said church treasurer Regina Harjala.

The restitution hearing has recessed until Wednesday at noon. Johnson did testify on Tuesday and is expected to continue testimony Wednesday.

The Evergreen Christian Church closed shortly after the embezzlement came to light.

 A Negaunee woman was sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty to embezzlement.

Noelle Johnson, 40, is not facing jail time right now, but will have to repay thousands of dollars.

"$6623.87; that amount of restitution will be ordered as a condition on probation of a misdemeanor offense and a condition of supervision with a felony offense," said Judge Jennifer Mazzuchi.

Johnson admitted to using church funds to pay for personal expenses, like gas and credit card bills, while working as the secretary of the Evergreen Christian Church in Negaunee Township.

"I accept responsibility for the Ferrell gas bills," said Johnson. "Also I want to give my heartfelt and sincerest apology to the church, the pastor, and all those affected for all the distress that I caused them."

The more than $6,000 restitution accounts for the documented checks, but the church claims there's over $11,000 in undocumented checks. That number was dismissed by the court, because it was late, and the defense didn't have a chance to review it.

"The prosecution didn't present any checks related to the credit card payments, but more importantly the overage of wages," said Raymond Gregory, defense attorney.

"The difficulty in large part of reviewing the financial documents here is that the financial recording and recording system isn't very formal because that wasn't the focus of the institution and the person responsible for the financial statements and for maintaining the checkbook is the person who has embezzled from the church," said Judge Mazzuchi.

Members of the church spoke at the sentencing about how the Evergreen Christian Church struggled in 2013.

"How many times did I ask you face-to-face, Noelle, if Pastor Mike isn't getting paid, how are you doing? Are you getting paid? Are you doing okay?" said Annette Carriere, the pastor's wife. "You replied to me, face-to-face, I'm okay, don't worry about me."

Johnson paid $4,000 in cash towards restitution on Friday. She'll serve one year probation, and appear again in court in eight months to see if she complied in paying back the rest of the money

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ex-NJCU production manager 'deeply regrets' stealing $87K from school

A former production manager for the Music, Dance and Theater Department at New Jersey City University was sentenced to three years in prison today for embezzling $87,600 from the school.

“I deeply regret I can no longer be part of something that was so important to me,” said Kathleen Peet, 37, of Rochelle Park, before being sentenced by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez.

“I stand here today in acknowledging the fact that when one does wrong, there will be consequences.”

Peet and her attorney asked Galis-Menendez to sentence the former NJCU employee to probation only but the judge denied their request.

“It is a serious offense when you are a state employee entrusted to handle money and you are taking the money for yourself," Galis-Menendez said.

Peet was responsible for the box office receipts from performances of the school's Music, Dance and Theater Department and she turned them over to the Bursar’s Office, typically once or twice per semester. She admitted that she stole from the cash receipts while they were in her custody.

The university discovered that the deposits to the bursar did not match the box office receipts and an audit revealed about $60,000 was missing from 2008 through 2013. Peet was suspended without pay in October 2013 and resigned the following month.

The Division of Criminal Justice's investigation revealed additional thefts prior to 2008 bringing the total to $87,587.

“White collar crime doesn’t just affect the bottom line, it affects people – in this case, the students involved in performing arts at this university,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By sending this woman to prison, we send a powerful deterrent message to others who might engage in this type of embezzlement.”

in court today, Peet read a lengthy statement at the sentencing, often stopping to wipe tears from her eyes. After the sentencing, she was led from court in handcuffs.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Former Radford University employee charged with embezzlement

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ex-PTO treasurer set for plea in $46,000 embezzlement case at Muskegon County elementary school

The former treasurer of Mona Shores' Campbell Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization has been scheduled for a guilty or no-contest plea to embezzling from the organization.

After a pretrial conference this week, Jordann Nicole Lockhart was scheduled for a plea Feb. 17 in front of Muskegon County 14th Circuit Chief Judge William C.  Marietti, according to the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office.

Lockhart, 33, of Muskegon was charged last October with embezzlement by agent or trustee of between $20,000 and $50,000. That's a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, but the actual sentence would be decided by Marietti based on state guidelines. Lockhart has no prior criminal record, which means her sentencing guidelines would likely be low.

Lockhart is accused of stealing more than $46,000 from the parent-teacher group.

Prosecutors earlier said the alleged embezzlements happened over a period of about 19 or 20 months in 2013 and 2014. Lockhart, who had control of the PTO's checking account, allegedly made checks out to cash or to herself, draining the organization's account.

The PTO is independent of the school. PTOs raise money privately through fundraisers, box-top redemptions, popcorn sales and the like.

Because of the embezzlement, the organization was left with no money to pay for new playground equipment recently installed at Campbell School, former Mona Shores Superintendent Dave Peden said last October. The school temporarily covered approximately $25,000 in costs, with the PTO expected to gradually repay the school district over a period of time, he said.

According to earlier reports, the missing money was discovered after the pastor of Westwood Reformed Church was presented with a check from the PTO that was returned for insufficient funds. The pastor informed the school's principal. The church helps the school with various events, including the annual fifth grade graduation ceremony.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Former Stedman PTA treasurer surrenders on embezzlement charges

A former PTA treasurer suspected of stealing more than $10,000 from the organization surrendered Tuesday afternoon to Cumberland County investigators, authorities said.
Emily Morgan Robinson, 28, of 2630 Wade-Stedman Road in Stedman, is charged with embezzlement. She was released on an unsecured $2,500 bond.
Robinson served as treasurer for Stedman Elementary School's PTA from August through November. An investigation of PTA funds began on Nov. 20, after discrepancies were discovered in a bank account belonging to school PTA, authorities said.
Detectives searched records involving monies collected through various fundraisers and found that $10,034.96 was unaccounted for. Authorities said Robinson wrote several checks for her personal use from the account and failed to post and deposit cash received from fundraisers.

Former Valencia High School Baseball Coach Accused Of Embezzling $15K

A felony arrest warrant was issued for a former high school coach accused of embezzling at least $15,000 from school funds intended for the baseball program.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a seven-count felony complaint was filed Thursday against former Valencia High School varsity baseball coach Jared Snyder.
Deputies explained the complaint accused Snyder of misappropriation of public funds by a public officer, embezzlement by a public officer and grand theft by embezzlement.
In late 2013, parents from Valencia High School accused Snyder of committing financial wrongdoing.
These allegations prompted the William S. Hart School District to conduct an audit of the school baseball program to determine if there was evidence of misconduct by staff members.
The audit revealed substantial evidence that suggested Snyder had been misappropriating funds from the high school’s associated student body by submitting fraudulent reimbursements, authorities explained.
In March 2014, the LASD’s Fraud & Cyber Crimes Bureau began a 10 month investigation based on the results of the school district’s audit.
During this time, Snyder subsequently took a sudden, surprise leave of absence amongst speculation in the investigation.
Detectives learned that Snyder had opened a second bank account in the name of Valencia Diamond Club, without notifying the district.
Money deposited into this account reportedly came from fundraisers and donations intended for the Valencia High School baseball program.
According to deputies, Snyder is accused of making monthly payments to his personal credit cards from this bank account for charges that were unrelated to the school’s baseball program.
The audit also revealed that Snyder sought reimbursement for items previously reimbursed by the school’s student body.
In total, $8,000 in fraudulent cash reimbursements were allegedly embezzled by Snyder from the ASB.
Officials explained an additional $7,000 was misdirected from the fraudulent bank account to pay for his personal credit card charges.
Snyder’s bail was set to $70,000 by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge.
He is scheduled to surrender on Wednesday at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, officials reported.

Former Valencia High School varsity baseball coach Jared Snyder pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges he embezzled between $10,000 and $15,000 from the school and a booster club over a six-year period.

A seven-count felony complaint was filed against Snyder earlier this month alleging misappropriation of public funds by a public officer, embezzlement by a public officer and grand theft by embezzlement, Sheriff’s Department officials said Tuesday.

The 44-year-old Valencia resident entered his not-guilty plea in the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, said the office’s Public Integrity Division is handling the case. Snyder was released on his own recognizance Wednesday and is due back in court March 5, Robison said.

Snyder’s defense lawyer, Daniel J. Kolodziej, said after the proceedings that his client is looking forward to “addressing and resolving” the allegations against him.

“We’re reviewing the allegations,” Kolodziej said. “Mr. Snyder has been a dedicated member of the community for many years and well recognized as a teacher and a coach.

“We’re looking forward to addressing and resolving the allegations as soon as possible,” he said. “At this stage, we are assessing what is allegation and what is evidence.”

The former baseball coach was placed on administrative leave in May by the William S. Hart Union High School District after questions arose about fundraising. On Dec. 3, during the course of the district’s investigation, Snyder resigned, a spokesman said.

In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, Assistant Superintendent Michael Vierra said: “In early 2014, the district initiated an investigation into allegations of improprieties by then-Valencia High School baseball coach Snyder based on information received by the district.

“Mr. Snyder was placed on administrative leave while the investigation was pending. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also undertook a parallel investigation into the matter,” Vierra said.

According to prosecutors, Snyder allegedly submitted fraudulent reimbursement forms to Valencia High School while serving as varsity baseball coach, Robison said in a news release Wednesday.

“He also was in charge of the team’s parent-funded booster club account and is accused of paying for personal credit card expenses from that fund,” she said. “The complaint alleges the crimes occurred between April 2008 and February 2014.”

The Hart district conducted an audit last year after receiving a complaint of financial irregularities in the baseball program, Robison said. The audit results were turned over to the Sheriff’s Department.

Snyder is charged with one count each of misappropriation, embezzlement by a public officer, embezzlement by a private officer, and four counts of grand theft.

If convicted, he faces up to six years, eight months in state prison.

The Sheriff’s Department investigation of the case was continuing, officials said.

Ex-HACC VP Nancy Rockey gets federal prison for $233K embezzlement scheme

Calling her crime "knowing and willful" a federal judge Tuesday sentenced former Harrisburg Area Community College Vice President Nancy Rockey to 15 months in prison for stealing $233,000 from the school.

The penalty U.S. Middle District Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner imposed was six months lower than that sought by the prosecutor.

Conner said he took several factors into account, including what he believes is Rockey's genuine remorse for the somewhat bizarre three-year embezzlement scheme and a deal she has struck to at least partly repay HACC's insurer.

Investigators said that, beginning in 2009, Rockey used a HACC-issued credit card to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gift cards from Amazon and Target. She then doctored financial records to hide the thefts. Rockey was arrested in January 2013 and pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge 10 months later.

Rockey, 55, a single mother of two from Lower Paxton Township, was visibly nervous as she waited for Conner to enter the courtroom. She wept as Conner allowed her to speak before sentencing.

"I can never articulate…how awful I feel," she said. "Remorse is so deep inside me. And guilt."

Rockey told the judge she had "grown up at HACC," having started work there at age 22. Her career at the college spanned 31 years. "I loved HACC. I loved HACC with all my heart," she said. "There is absolutely no excuse for what I've done."

"The past three years I've been in Hell," Rockey added. "I'm a different person. I'm a broken person. But I believe in changing lives and making a difference."

One supporter called by defense attorney Adam G. Klein, psychologist Lee Morand, told Conner she believes the financial fraud stemmed at least partly from financial pressures Rockey experienced after being divorced.

"She is remorseful and in my opinion has been for three years. I believe she will be for the rest of her life," Morand said.

Another backer, Frank Dixon, chairman of the Lebanon-based Dixon Foundation and a board member and former chairman of the HACC Foundation, spoke of how impressed he was working with Rockey on fund-raising for HACC.

"She made a mistake, but I think her talents and energy are needed by society," Dixon said.

A friend, of Rockey, Doug Neidigh, said the news of her crime "hit me like a punch in the stomach." The fraud was totally out of character for her, he said.

Neidigh also urged Conner not to overlook what he said were Rockey's "dedication" and contributions to HACC. "She had a large hand in bringing the college to where it is now," he said.

Klein said Rockey had tried, unsuccessfully, to repay HACC in full from her retirement, but was unable to access the funds to do so. He said she has an agreement to settle the restitution issue by paying the college's insurer $127,500 at a pace of $18,000 annually. HACC was made whole by its insurer, Klein said.

About 20 backers of Rockey attended her sentencing hearing. Conner noted he received four dozen letters from her supporters.

Yet Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph J. Terz insisted that Rockey's crime was not so different from other financial offenses that have sent local bank officials and others to federal prison recently.

Rockey's obvious dedication to HACC simply makes her crime "all the more baffling," said Terz, who sought a prison term of at least 21 months.

"This is not a private institution. It's a public institution," he said of HACC. "She's betrayed the trust of the community, and to a larger extent the trust of society."

Conner said Rockey's crime was a "fairly complex fraud with significant financial consequences." Still, it is obvious she "was a dedicated employee in many respects," he said, and she could not have believed her embezzlement would not eventually be discovered.

"I believe Ms. Rockey is remorseful enough that she will never again engage in this type of activity," Conner said.

He ordered Rockey to begin serving her prison term on Feb. 19.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Traverse City embezzlement case headed to circuit court

A former Traverse City Area Public Schools employee moved closer to trial on accusations she embezzled thousands of dollars from the school district. 
Mary Gillison, 50, of Arcadia, is charged with one count of embezzlement greater than $1,000 but less than $20,000, a five-year felony. TCAPS officials said more than $58,000 disappeared since 2006.

Gillison's case was bound over to 13th Circuit Court on Monday, but her next hearing is yet to be scheduled.
,Both the audit and subsequent sheriff's investigation into Gillison's bank statements show about $8,000 in unauthorized purchases since 2009, but school officials report about $58,600 in missing money from 2006 until Gillison resigned.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said investigators could only look back through 2009 because the statute of limitations is six years in criminal cases.  That's why she is only being charged with embezzlement greater than $1,000 but less than $20,000.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sports organizations need checks and balances to prevent embezzlement

The president of Casper Youth Baseball received notices last April that the club’s utilities would be shut off immediately due to payments not being made.

Cindy Garvin checked the organization’s bank account and realized about $50,000 was missing.

“It was one of those gut-wrenching things, where you just go, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be real. Please be wrong,’” Garvin said during a phone interview Friday.

Garvin asked Casper Youth Baseball’s office manager, Caitlyn Tolliver, who handled the group’s funds, for financial records to complete an audit. Tolliver refused to provide the paperwork, according to documents filed in Natrona County Circuit Court in December, and she was fired.

Tolliver is charged with grand larceny for allegedly using the organization’s funds to make personal purchases and write additional paychecks for herself. She stole more than $65,000 from the group, police say.

“I don’t think it generally starts out as ill intent,” said Casper police detective Shannon Daley. “I think one day the bills are short and they need $500 to get to payday. But then they keep on borrowing and borrowing, until it’s nearly impossible to pay it back.”

Another local woman is facing charges that she stole thousands of dollars from the youth organization she worked for.

Katherine Sue Strom is accused of stealing more than $13,000 while she was the director of the Wyoming Youth Sports Association, according to court documents. She allegedly used the organization's bank account to make payments on her credit card and to purchase Kindle e-readers from Amazon.

The organization’s newly elected director contacted Casper police in March about the missing money. Strom was charged in October with two counts of grand larceny and two counts of misdemeanor larceny. She pleaded not guilty in December.

Neither Tolliver nor Strom had a history of fraud, Daley said.

A woman in Gillette, who was the treasurer for the Gillette Hockey Association for four years, was also recently accused of fraud. Micky Culey faces 10 charges of forgery and one charge of larceny, all felonies, according to an affidavit filed in Campbell County District Court in November. Culey allegedly forged checks using the name of an assistant coach.

How it happens

Daley said there are three factors that cause a person in a position of trust to steal money from the organization they represent: opportunity, rationalization and pressure.

The first factor is straightforward.

“If they’d never had access to the business’ checking account, they never would have had the opportunity to steal the money,” Daley said.

Rationalization can come in different forms. Daley said Strom rationalized taking the money because she had been director of the Wyoming Youth Sports Association for 10 years, but the role had only recently become a paid position. Before 2010, the director was a volunteer position. She asserted the checks she wrote herself were back pay for the years she was not paid.

Tolliver declined to be interviewed by police, Daley said, so she wasn’t sure how the woman had rationalized taking the money she took.

The third factor is pressure, oftentimes financial.

"'I won’t make it to payday,' for instance," Daley said.

Tolliver is accused of using Casper Youth Baseball’s debit card to purchase office supplies, a bicycle, a dog kennel, tires, license plates and toys. She allegedly used the account to make cellphone payments.

Tolliver also reportedly wrote a check to Mountain View Elementary School for $400, but the school asked the organization’s former president if the check was authorized, since Casper Youth Baseball is a nonprofit. The man told the school it was not. When approached, Tolliver told him she had accidentally written the check using the wrong bank account.

When authorized purchases go unnoticed or unpunished, the perpetrator develops a sense of invincibility.

“When they’re still not caught, it’s like, ‘Oh, nobody’s ever going to catch me,’” Daley said.

Casper Youth Baseball has amended their policies to prevent another employee from abusing the group’s finances, Garvin said. Five of their nine board members are new, and all major expenses now have to be approved by the board.

“Our customers will see a lot of differences this year,” Garvin said. “We are committed to our customers and giving value to the fees they pay to let their kids play baseball.”

How organizations can prevent it

Oversight is essential for stopping such crimes, Daley said.

Tolliver reported to the Casper Youth Baseball’s board of directors quarterly, and the Wyoming Youth Sports Association had annual meetings that Strom attended, but neither woman was ever required to show bank statements. There was no verification of the funds.

“It was just going off their word,” Daley said. “There was no oversight from other people.”

While it’s not unusual for businesses to have only one person doing the books, Daley said it’s wiser to have one person writing the checks and another person receiving bank statements.

“Having one person receiving money and depositing it and then reconciling the bank statements, you’re at risk of people being able to steal from you,” said Jody Shields, director of the Wyoming Nonprofit Network. “It’s just having more than one person involved in processing, paying and receiving funds.”

Diane Berg, president of the Casper Amateur Hockey Club, said the group’s board of directors must approve all expenses not included in the already-approved operating budget. The organization has a treasurer, who proposes additional expenses at monthly meetings with board members. Berg and three other executives for the club are the only ones with signing authority.

Shields said every nonprofit should take steps to ensure they have procedures in place to prevent an employee from exploiting group funds. That’s more difficult for small nonprofits with only one or two employees, she said, but her organization offers training and checklists for organizations to develop policies.

It’s expected that any organization defrauded by one of their own will feel embarrassed, Daley said, but they shouldn’t beat themselves up too much.

“I think it’s more common than is reported,” the detective said.

2 ex-Parkersburg, WV Girl Scout leaders face embezzlement charges

Two Parkersburg women have been indicted on charges that they used Girl Scout funds to take a trip to Florida.

Media outlets report a Wood County grand jury indicted Denise Davis and Mary Farnworth on Thursday on charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Both are former troop leaders of the Girls Scouts of the Black Diamond Council. Council spokeswoman Jennifer Brown says Davis still works as the council's director of membership services.

Special prosecutor Joshua Downey says the women allegedly used $2,400 from cookie and yard sales to take their daughters and a friend to Sea World in 2011. Downey says the money came from outreach groups.

The Black Diamond Council serves most of West Virginia, along with some areas of Virginia, Ohio and Maryland.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Brookfield woman sentenced for embezzlement scheme against church

A Brookfield woman has received 21 months in prison for embezzling funds from a local church.  
Cynthia Head, 51, of Brookfield, was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay $192,000 in restitution for embezzling funds from the Brookfield Church of Nazarene. 
Head was found guilty of writing unauthorized checks to herself, making unauthorized withdrawals from the church’s bank account and purchasing items like computers, cameras and vacuum cleaners with church checks, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Missouri.

The fraud scheme began in September of 2007 and lasted until October of 2013. Head also served as the church’s treasure during the time and netted approximately $192,000 from the scheme, according to the release.  

The Kirksville Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Linn County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.

Salina church's former treasurer arrested for embezzlement

A Salina man accused of embezzling more than $7,500 from a local church for which he served as treasurer was arrested Wednesday after he turned himself in.
Salina police issued a warrant on Dec. 7 for Terry J. Geer, 36, who was wanted on 98 counts of unlawful use of a financial card and one count of felony theft, Salina police Capt. Mike Sweeney said.
Geer is accused of making 53 unauthorized charges at Salina stores and purchasing 45 Moneygrams using a credit card belonging to Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 639 Max, between May 2013 and June 2014, Sweeney said.
The unauthorized charges totaling more than $7,640 were discovered during an internal audit after church members came to think money was missing from church accounts, Sweeney said.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Church volunteer avoids jail by repaying pilfered funds in Scrip

 A volunteer for Holy Family Catholic Church in Caledonia avoided jail on an embezzlement charge after paying back more than $18,000 pilfered from the church over a three-year period.

Deborah Slocum Wright, 47, appeared in Kent County Circuit Court Tuesday to be sentenced for felony embezzlement. Originally charged with embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000, the charge was amended to attempted embezzlement based on her cooperation with investigators.

She could have faced up to five years in prison on the original charge. Instead, Wright left Judge Donald Johnston's courtroom a free woman after providing the court with a $18,430 check to cover the missing funds. She's still on the hook for $798 in fines and court costs.

Thefts began in July, 2010 and continued through Nov. 2013 at Holy Family, 9669 Kraft Ave. SE, court records show.

The Kent County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation last March after the Rev. Mark Bauer and the parish CPA reported sales and profits from its Great Lakes Script program were lower than in past years, according to court documents.

The missing funds were traced back to 2010 when Wright began volunteering with the parish scrip program. Used by non-profit organizations, participants buy goods at participating retailers using scrip, with rebates going to the participating non-profits. Organizations have raised more than $500 million over the last 20 years through the program, according to the Great Lakes Scrip website.

Wright handled all of the church's scrip cards, court documents show. Holy Family reported a cash loss of $10,875 and scrip card losses of $7,555, court documents show

Sheriff's deputies obtained a warrant to search Wright's home on Sienna Drive SE in Gaines Township as part of the investigation.

Two weeks after the investigation was launched, Bauer sent letters to 896 parish families explaining a volunteer had been let go due to the misappropriation of church funds. The letter did not provide details of the investigation.

Wright, who was charged in September, was released after posting a $1,000 bond.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ex-employee suspected of $90,000 embezzlement from Ukiah school

Ukiah Unified School District officials suspect the district’s adult school has lost $90,000 over three years because of embezzlement by a former employee.

The employee, who was fired, will not be prosecuted for the suspected skimming of cash payments because law enforcement officials have determined they are unlikely to be able to prove wrongdoing at trial.

“We didn’t feel there was enough evidence,” Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey said. The Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office concurred.

The Ukiah Adult School, which has about 200 students and an annual budget of $870,000, offers courses that lead to citizenship, high school diplomas and certificates in nursing and English as a second language.

The district has altered the adult school’s accounting practices to prevent future abuse, district Superintendent Deb Kubin said Tuesday.

Because a criminal case was not filed, the district would not reveal the name of the suspected embezzler.

“It’s a confidential personnel matter,” Kubin said.

The school district initiated an investigation in June after an official noted irregularities between the adult school’s cash receipts and deposits made to the district office, she said. The police investigation was concluded in December, and reports were forwarded to the district attorney.

Kubin said the school district is now focusing on making sure there are oversight procedures in place to prevent fraud in the future.

“At this point, my goal is to make sure we prevent anything like this from happening again,” she said. The new rules include no longer accepting cash payments at the adult school, the only Ukiah campus that did so.

Dewey said the case should serve as a reminder to all businesses that they need to oversee their finances. Businesses that are vulnerable to fraud are those that entrust a single individual with their money, he said.

“I would really encourage businesses to make sure they have some kind of verification process in place,” Dewey said.

Following the embezzlement of $90,000 from its Adult School program, the Ukiah Unified School District is implementing changes to how it tracks transactions, particularly when it involves cash.
The biggest accounting problem at the Ukiah Adult School, the UUSD found out, was that it took cash payments and did not have a double-counting system in place where one employee checks another's bookkeeping.
One immediate result of the investigation is that the Adult School will no longer be taking cash payments; students who need to pay in cash will need to do that at the UUSD administration offices.
The investigation was sparked in June of last year when UUSD was looking to hire a full-time administrator for the Adult School and found that the funding it thought was available for that was gone. A UUSD administrator looking into it noticed irregularities between Adult School cash receipts and deposits made to the district office.
The Ukiah Police Department was notified and the school district brought in the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team for a state-funded audit.
The FCMAT investigation concluded in mid-October, and the police investigation ended in December.
There will be no prosecution and the suspect employee is not being named. Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey said Monday that unfortunately, although "the DA worked really hard," there simply was not enough evidence to make embezzlement charges stick.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ex-school accountant gets 5 years for embezzlement

Prosecutors say a former Southern California school district accountant recorded on video stuffing lunch money into her bra has been sentenced to five years in county jail.

The San Bernardino Sun reports ( ) 50-year-old Judith Oakes was also ordered Thursday to pay back the $1.8 million taken from the Rialto Unified School District between 2005 and 2013.

She pleaded guilty last month to nine counts of misappropriating public funds.

Oakes worked for the district for 25 years. She resigned following her arrest in August 2013 on suspicion of embezzlement after surveillance videos showed her putting cash into her bra on two occasions.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Former Cushing School Secretary Arraigned On Embezzlement Charge

Former Harmony school secretary Mary Susan Porter was arraigned Tuesday on a felony charge accusing her of embezzling $23,823.44 from the Child Nutrition Fund while she was employed by Cushing Public Schools between August 2008 and February 2014.

Porter, 60, of Cushing, was allowed by Special District Judge Robert Hert to remain free on a personal recognizance bond pending a Feb. 2 court appearance when she can seek a preliminary hearing on the charge, court records showed today.

Cushing Police Officer Jerrod Livergood wrote in an affidavit that on Feb. 21, 2014, Cushing Public School Child Nutrition Director John Rhoten reported that Porter was suspected of embezzling money from the school.

“Rhoten said that he and Superintendent Koln Knight had a meeting with Porter in the office at 1401 N. Little on Feb. 20, 2014.

“Rhoten stated that Porter was asked to explain why the cash deposits did not match up with the totals in the main computer.

“Rhoten said the school verified that Porter embezzled $2,387 since the beginning of this school year.

“Rhoten reported Porter said she took the money and was willing to pay it back,” the Cushing police officer alleged in his affidavit.

“Rhoten said that he received a resignation from Porter along with two checks totaling $2,387.

“Rhoten advised that the Cushing Public School would like to press charges on Porter for the embezzlement,” the affidavit alleged.

When Porter was interviewed by Livergood at the Cushing Police Department on April 10, 2014, “Porter said that she made a really bad decision and started taking money from the lunch money accounts,” the affidavit alleged.

“Porter said that she took money for the past three years,” the affidavit alleged.

“Porter wrote in her statement, ‘it was a horribly wrong thing to do and I truly do regret my actions,’” the affidavit alleged.

“Porter said that when she was confronted by Knight and Rhoten, she felt very remorseful and paid back the amount they said was missing for the year,” the affidavit alleged.

Livergood said, “I informed her that the initial numbers they provided her of $2,387 has been corrected for the year and that the corrected amount of missing money for the 2013-2014 year is $2,577.

“Porter said she was willing to pay the difference to the corrected amount and the amount for the previous two years,” the affidavit alleged.

“The total loss for Aug. 2008 to Feb. 2014 is $23,823.44. Porter paid back the school a total of $2,387 at the time of her resignation,” the affidavit alleged.

Embezzlement carries a maximum penalty of a five-year prison term and a $5,000 fine, along with an order to pay restitution and an amount equal to 10 percent of any court-ordered restitution for deposit to the School Investigative Audit Revolving Fund, court records show.

Harvey school clerk accused of embezzling $75,000, blames armed robber

Just before the winter holiday break in 2013, the accounts clerk at Helen Cox High School reported an astonishing crime. She told investigators that an armed robber showed up at the Harvey school's office and made off with potentially thousands of dollars in cash and checks, all of it collected from students for senior dues, candy sales and other school functions such as dances, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office records.

But after school officials investigated, they pointed to the clerk herself as the culprit. Nieli Hebert, 45, is suspected of embezzling about $75,000 over more than a year, according to a new audit and Sheriff's Office records. Prosecutors are trying to decide whether to charge Hebert with a crime, her attorney said Tuesday.

Soon after Hebert reported the robbery, she resigned. School system officials began to examine Cox's books and talk to other employees. They eventually told police that Hebert might have stolen the money, and the Sheriff's Office arrested her March 31.

Witnesses told investigators that Hebert received cash and checks collected by teachers for the student activity fund. She entered the amounts in her computer and gave receipts to teachers.

Later, however, she allegedly changed the computer entries to subtract the cash amounts, leaving only the check amounts in the school records and depositing only the checks in the school's bank account. Schools officials say they discovered the discrepancies after teachers submitted original receipts, showing amounts that differed from the figures in the computer records. The alleged pilfering began in fall 2012 and continued through December 2013, officials said.

Hebert told police she did not steal any money. She said schools officials might have changed the records to make it appear as though she did, in retaliation for a 2010 lawsuit she filed against the school system for racial discrimination.

Her attorney, Juan Labadie, said no similar financial problems were reported during the 25 years that Hebert worked for the school system. "They never had any problems with her whatsoever. They always passed her financial reviews with the schools perfectly," he said.

He said the district attorney's office is still screening her case.

Despite Hebert's report of an armed robbery at the school, and her subsequent arrest, neither development has been reported in the news media until now. Word of the alleged embezzlement surfaced in the school system's annual audit, performed by the Carr, Riggs & Ingram accounting firm of Metairie and delivered in December to school system officials. Sheriff's Office records obtained in recent days provide other information, including Hebert's name and booking information.  

The school system recouped most of the missing money, $71,060, through insurance claims, officials said. To prevent future similar theft, officials pledged better tracking of school finances and investigations of any accounting changes. The student activity accounting system is now web-based, which means reports may be run from the school system's central office, instead of through Cox's servers, and school personnel may not change the reports.

These types of incidents aren't isolated. In 2011, three former Jefferson schools employees pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to embezzle money that should have been spent on tutoring and remediation for students. And at two charter organizations in New Orleans, Lusher Charter School and KIPP New Orleans, employees heisted thousands in school funds in 2011 and 2013.

Former CSI University Worker Charged in Embezzlement

A former College of Southern Idaho employee has been charged with grand theft after allegedly embezzling money from the school.
Dawn Marie Orr, 41, of Twin Falls, is accused of five felony counts. She allegedly stole $530,556.29 from the college over five years, court documents say.

A new case was filed Wednesday in Twin Falls County District Court, and a felony summons was issued, ordering Orr to make an initial appearance in court within five days, at noon on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

In late September, CSI announced that a longtime business office employee was being investigated on suspicion of stealing money.

CSI and Twin Falls police didn’t release Orr’s name.

The alleged crime was discovered in July, and police had been investigating since.

By early December, police turned over their case to the Twin Falls County prosecutor.

Court records give this account:

Last July 31, Orr and a friend entered CSI’s business office and asked to meet with Mike Mason, vice president of administration, and Dean of Finance Jeffrey Harmon.

“She said, ‘I took some money from the college, and I have so much guilt that I cannot live with it any longer.’”

Orr, who was Mason’s assistant, said she had a gambling problem. She said she exchanged checks for cash from the safe and overstated third-party billings.

She said she took $50,000 to $100,000 over a couple of years. But court records say she stole more than $530,000 from fiscal years 2010 to 2014.

Orr admitted to detectives that she’d taken money since 2007, but several years expired under the statue of limitations.

Police were dispatched to the college Aug. 8 on a report that an employee embezzled money. Detectives interviewed Orr on Aug. 13 in the presence of her attorney. Orr spoke voluntarily.

Detectives also inter-viewed CSI finance employees.

On Sept. 29, the exact amount of stolen money was presented to Orr.

“Orr expressed disbelief at the enormous figures of missing funds,” court records say. “When asked if Orr kept records of the dollar amounts that she took, she said she had not kept any records.”

Orr didn’t have a combination to the college’s safe, but she had a key to the vault room.

“She had access to the safe throughout the day due to CSI’s practice of opening the safe in the morning and leaving it open during business hours as long as someone was physically present in the Business Office area where the safe and vault room are located,” court records state.

The college since has changed its financial controls.

In November, CSI trustees heard 10 recommendations from certified fraud examiner Denise McClure, of Averti Solutions.

She reviewed cash receiving and payroll processes, and she audited the period from July 1, 2012, through July 31, 2014.

Some job descriptions were revised, and a part-time controller was added to address internal controls and provide fiscal oversight.

Man admits embezzling from East Lansing school group

The former treasurer of an East Lansing elementary school’s parent-teacher council told a judge Wednesday that money he embezzled from the group helped pay his home’s mortgage.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Robert Clayton Miller — who is on leave from his state job because of a medical condition that was not described in court — will not serve any jail time. Miller pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge, admitting he took between $200 and $1,000.
The embezzlement happened between June 2012 and June 2013 while Miller was serving as treasurer for Pinecrest Elementary School’s parent-teacher council.
“I was not feeling particularly well,” he told Judge Rosemarie Aquilina at a hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court. “I basically was not (performing my duties) at all.”
Miller, 49, didn’t elaborate on his medical condition, which has caused him to be on leave from his job with the state.
His attorney, Karen Phillips, said in an interview after the hearing: “There were some health issues that...were significant enough for him to be off work.”
In 2013, police discovered that nearly $7,800 was missing from the parent-teacher council. About $6,500 was recovered and returned to the organization. Miller was ordered to pay the remaining amount.
Miller had turned over his treasurer duties to his wife, Kimberly. He said he knew she used the money for a mortgage payment on their East Lansing home. They now live with her mother in Holt, he said.
In 2013, Kimberly Miller pleaded no contest in 54B District Court to a larceny charge, records show. She was placed on probation and ordered to pay more than $2,800 in fines and costs.
A sentence hearing for Robert Miller is set for Feb. 11.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Brainerd Woman Convicted In Church Embezzlement Case

A Brainerd woman will spend time in jail and pay restitution in an embezzlement case that some say caused devastating harm to a church.  48-year-old Theresa Barrett was convicted of embezzling money from the Christian Science Church of Brainerd, sentenced to 15 days in jail and ordered to pay restitution of nearly 80 thousand dollars.  The embezzlement occurred for more than two years beginning in 2011.  Church officials say because of the crime they were forced to sell the building they had occupied for more than 80 years.  Barrett was a third-generation congregation member.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pastor accused in Pasadena embezzlement stripped of authority at Pomona church

 Danny Ray Wooten, a Pomona preacher accused of embezzling from Pasadena City Hall, where he was employed, has been stripped of his parsonage, the local head of his denomination said Monday.

Rev. C.E. Milton said he would send a new pastor to congregants of the New Covenant Church on North Garey Avenue in Pomona. The new pastor has not yet been identified.

The Southern California Evangelistic Jurisdiction has also begun an audit of its funds to determine if the organization has been scammed in any way.

“We have a good system in place,” Milton said. “We’re checking to see if anything is missing, but we have a sharp lady here who watches our books closely. He didn’t have access.”

District Attorney’s officials last week arrested Wooten and he is being held in lieu of $1.75 million bail.

Wooten is accused of embezzling $6.4 million from an obscure fund in the city’s public works department and funneling the money to himself and cohorts in a money laundering and kickback scheme.

“We’ve stripped him of all his authority,” said Milton, who heads a West Villa Street congregation. “This is an unfortunate event.”

Members of the City Council have known details about the case for weeks, but kept the information secret while the Los Angeles County District Attorney conducted a criminal investigation.

Wooten, 51, a former DPW management analyst was arrested with Altadena contractor Tyrone Collins, 55, and Melody Jenkins, 46, a onetime assistant to Wooten. The three are named in a 60-count felony complaint. The allegations include embezzlement, conflict of interest and grand theft.

The alleged public corruption scheme spans more years and involves a larger sum of money than the Bell scandal where officials misappropriated $5.5 million.

Pasadena officials claim Wooten wrote nearly 300 fraudulent invoices to the city on behalf of four bogus vendors. In return the city issued 189 checks totalling $6.4 million.

Wooten’s residence, a two-story tract home in a Montclair subdivision south of Mission Boulevard, was dark Sunday evening. Two black Cadillacs, one a 2014 vintage, were parked outside. Both vehicles are registered to him, according to records on file with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. A third car, a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, is registered to Laventa Wooten, according to DMV records. No one answered the door at the home. Neighbors said they knew nothing about Danny Ray Wooten.

Wooten’s Church on North Garey Avenue has a gated parking lot and had been a dialysis center less than a decade ago. Previously the building had been a medical office.

A large portrait of Wooten and a large portrait of Wooten and his wife hang in the church’s foyer. On Sunday morning Laventa Wooten taught Sunday School, with the subject being prayer.

A reporter attending services was asked to leave.

“If you’re not here to enjoy God’s presence, then you need to leave,” Laventa Williams said.

In an interview last week, City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said officials were shocked to learn they had been had by a former employee.

“We in Pasadena have always held ourselves out as a model of municipal government, so it’s an extra blow to find out ... for the past 11 years (that) one of our employees was stealing from us,” said McAustin. “It’s a shock.”

Milton said he understood the reaction.

“They ought to be upset,” he said. “I’m upset.”

Milton issued a statement Sunday acknowledging that church members would be praying for Wooten.

“Southern California Evangelistic Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (SCEEJ) is deeply disappointed and saddened by the arrest of Pastor Danny Ray Wooten,” the statement began.

“All of the County’s allegations against Pastor Wooten relate to his employment with the City of Pasadena and in no way involve SCEEJ or its ministry functions,” it continued. “We understand that there is an entity, Southern California Evangelistic Jurisdictional Center, named in the allegations against Danny Wooten; however, the entity was named as one of two churches affiliated with Pastor Wooten alone. This entity is not related to SCEEJ and no authorization was given on the part of SCEEJ to form the entity or conduct its business.”

Milton said church officials will cooperate with authorities.

“At all times during this process, we will maintain open communication and full cooperation with the necessary authorities, and will continue to do so as we proceed through the legal process.”

Monday, January 5, 2015


A former Tulare priest accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from parishioners has bailed out of jail. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno is reaching out to members to help calm any concerns.

Questions surround former priest Ignacio Villafan of St. Rita's Catholic Church in Tulare. This week he was arrested and charged with embezzling $425,000.

The Diocese of Fresno was first told about accounting problems several years ago at St. Rita's. That's when they put Villafan on paid administrative leave. They also contacted Tulare police.

Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said, "Tulare Police Department did a lengthy thorough investigation and based on that we were able to file charges."

Ward says Villafan took the money from 2005 to 2012. If he's found guilty, Villafan could face seven years in state prison. Right now, no one is saying what happened to the money.

Ward added, "That's one of the aspects that the Tulare Police Department and our investigators will continue to investigate."

The district attorney says that evidence will come out during a preliminary hearing. Villafan will be formally charged on January 22. He's still on paid administrative leave.

No one answered at a home in Tulare where records say Villafan lives. He spent a night in jail before bailing out on New Year's Day.

The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office filed embezzlement charges Wednesday against Rev. Ignacio Villafan, pastor at Saint Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare.

After having an outside accounting firm examine the records — dating back to the time that Villafan was pastor — Diocesan officials brought the evidence of financial improprieties to the attention of the Tulare Police Department. An arrest followed.

Villafan was immediately removed from administrative duties, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Most Reverend Armando X. Ochoa, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, offered the following statement: “We must be good stewards; accountable for the gifts and resources that are faithfully offered to the Church to accomplish the mission of Christ in our midst. My concern and prayerful support for all impacted by this particular situation continues.”

The Diocese of Fresno has a parish financial-reporting and monitoring system in place to increase transparency and guide management best practices. Training is provided to clergy and staff members throughout the Diocese. All parishes in the Diocese are undergoing an agreed-upon procedure known as parish internal-control assessments, which continues on a three-year cycle.