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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Inside Jobs: Four Embezzlement Cases

     While it's impossible for a normal person to understand why, for example, a 14-year-old boy sets a building on fire for a sexual thrill, we all know why people steal. We understand because either as children, adolescents, or adults, we have taken something that didn't belong to us. The motive for theft is simple and direct, to get something for nothing. Theft is immoral, and of course, illegal. As a matter of morality, and certainly in law, the more you steal, the more serious your crime.

     In criminal law, there are several forms of theft, or illegal taking. Customers who steal merchandise from stores are retail thieves. People who slip out of restaurants without paying their bills commit theft of service. Employees who steal from their employers are larcenists security professionals call internal thieves. Criminals who threaten to expose victims' secrets if not paid money to remain silent, are blackmailers. A thug threatening future physical harm if the victim doesn't pay up is called an extortionist. (If you don't pay me $1,000 a month I'll burn down your business, is not how fire insurance is supposed to work.) Robbers are thieves who take money and valuables through the use of force or threat of immediate physical force; and burglars steal (and commit other crimes) by unlawful intrusion into homes and buildings. Swindlers and con artists acquire their loot through deception and fraud. And don't forget the passers of bad checks, forged money orders, and stolen and fake credit cards. It seems there are as many ways to steal as there are ways to acquire things legally.

     Except for major armored truck ambush jobs, big time jewelry heists, and massive credit card cases, the thieves who hit their victims the hardest financially, are the embezzlers. (The average bank robbery haul, for example, is just a few thousand dollars.) An embezzler is a person who's in what is called a fiduciary relationship with the victim, a position of trust. The embezzler--accountants, company and organization treasurers, financial managers, and various financial institution employees--steal from private and government employers and clients who have entrusted them with their money. While an embezzler can make a big, one-time haul, most steal smaller amounts over extended periods of time. To accomplish these illegal diversions of funds, embezzlers often alter financial documents, and commit the separate crimes of forgery and false swearing. Quite often, embezzlers, to get away with their thefts, have accomplices within the victim companies and organizations. Detectives and federal agents who investigate these cases (particularly when they involve sophisticated computer crimes), should be specialists in the investigation of financial offenses and criminal conspiracies.

Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania

     A recent audit of the personal finances of 95-year-old Dr. Robert Monsour led to criminal charges against 58-year-old Maureen A. Becker who was hired in 2000 to take around-the-clock care of the doctor, and to look after his money. She has been charged with diverting to her own use, between January 2008 and March 2010, $340,000 of the old man's money. Becker stood accused of depositing, into her own bank account, $167,000 from the sale of 67 acres of the doctor's estate. When asked why she had diverted these funds to her own bank account, Becker claimed the money had been a gift from her employer. (This, apparently, was news to Dr. Monsour.) Becker also told investigators that the doctor had raised her salary from $300 a week to $800. Detectives also found that the suspect deposited a number of her employer's CDs into her account, money she claimed the doctor wanted her to have.

     The judge, following Becker's guilty plea, sentenced her in June 2012 to three years in prison.

New York City

     Anita Collins, in 1986 and 1999, pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the theft of funds from a pair of her New York City employers. In return for her pleas, she avoided prison. In 2010, Collins, at age 65, worked in the finance office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. She had been hired without a background investigation. In an article published in the archdiocese newspaper, Catholic New York, she received praise for volunteering at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a mass welcoming 600 people to Catholicism. Described as an "unassuming" person, Collins told the author of the piece that "My faith has always been a steadfast part of my life."

     An outside auditor, in November 2011, discovered $350,000 of the church's money missing. Following a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Collins was charged with siphoning $1 million in church donations. Over a period of seven years Collins sent fake invoices to the archdiocese then issued some 450 checks to accounts she controlled. All of the transactions were in sums just under the $2,500 threshold that required a supervisor's approval.

     The church fired Anita Collins in December 2011. According to the chief investigator on the case, the suspect spent the $1 million on mortgage payments and on "a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far from her lawful means."

     Collins pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the first degree in September 2012. In October 2012, the Manhattan judge sentenced her to 4 to 9 years in prison. The judge also ordered her to pay back the church.

Belgrade, Montana

      In November 2010, police were called in when members of the Belgrade Little League Baseball Association couldn't figure out why outstanding bills for uniforms and supplies had not been paid. During a period of four years, league board members had signed blank checks, and gave them to the treasurer, Amy Jo Erickson, to pay the bills.

     In January 2011, after the police discovered that $92,000 from the organization had vanished, they confronted Erickson. The little league treasurer admitted that she had made the blank checks out to herself in "cash," and to her husband's plumbing company. She started embezzling in 2007 because, according to court records, she "needed help financially."

     Anita Collins took money from the church and Amy Jo Erickson stole from the parents and sponsors of little league baseball players. These thieves weren't starving, they didn't use the money for life saving surgery, and they didn't play Robin Hood by giving it to the poor. They simply redistributed a little wealth to themselves.

     In October 2012, after Erickson pleaded guilty, the judge sentenced her to 180 days in the Gallatin County Jail. The judge ordered her to pay full restitution.

Lakewood, Washington

     On November 29, 2009, a police assassin named Maurice Clemmons walked into a coffee shop in Parkland, Washington and shot four Lakewood police officers to death. Two days later, a police officer in Seattle killed Clemmons in a gun battle. Following the mass murder, the police department formed a charity to help the families of the slain officers called the Lakewood Police Independent Guild (LPIG). Officer Timothy Manos became the treasurer of the fund.

     Although the 34-year-old treasurer received a police salary of $93,347 a year, Manos had serious financial problems. In June 2006, Ford Motor Credit Company sued him for $12,000 he owned in car payments. He had been sued for unpaid medical expenses, and owed a lot of money to credit card companies. He and his wife also enjoyed what some would consider an extravagant lifestyle.

     In 2010 and 2011, citizens in the Lakewood community donated $3.2 million to the fund from which Manos allegedly skimmed $150,000. During the period the FBI believed he was embezzling the money, this debt-ridden cop took his wife to Las Vegas to enjoy the Cirque du Soleil, and several nights of gambling. Also during this period, Manos spent $1,700 on snowboarding and other outdoor gear. He bought a high-definition video camera; a computer; a stainless-steel refrigerator; and a high-definition television set. Between February 12, 2010 and February 20, 2011 Manos withdrew $50,000 from ATMs.

     In March 2011, FBI agents arrested Manos on 10 counts of wire fraud. LPIG official placed Officer Manos on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the federal investigation.

     A federal judge in Tacoma, following Manos' guilty plea, sentenced him to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $159,000 in restitution.

     Stealing from the Catholic church and the little league is bad enough, but the ripping-off of a charity for the families of slain police officers by a fellow officer is as bad as it gets.            

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