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Embezzlement on the Rise in Virginia

Written by a staff writer with the firm

When trusted overseers dismiss their fiduciary responsibility by misappropriating the funds or property of others, embezzlement has likely occurred. Government, private sectors and non-profits have all seen an uptick in cases of this fraudulent nature in several Virginia counties.

Volunteer Ellen Baker of Essex County was recently charged on three felony indictments for embezzling $800 from the Christmas Mother Fund, a social services program that delivers holiday gifts to needy families. Baker is accused of stealing charitable dollars for personal use, dating back to August 2011. As of late January, Tappahannock Police were soliciting information regarding Baker’s whereabouts to bring formal criminal charges against her. Hardly as sensational as some of the nation’s highest profile embezzlement cases, like Peregrine Financial, stolen monies allocated to indigent families is particularly appalling and disheartening, especially during the holidays. In this case, children bore the brunt of the disappointment with dashed hopes for making their Christmas wishes come true.

Another prominent embezzlement case in Virginia involved an Albemarle County woman who was charged with embezzling funds from the Lafayette School and Treatment Center to the tune of $27,000. As a former Charlottesville school director, Mary Anderson’s alleged theft cost three employees their jobs due to financial hardship spawned by the pilfered funds. However, out of a 10-year sentence handed down by the court, Anderson was required to serve only 20 days of incarceration. The judge cited Anderson’s stellar character references by colleagues, family and friends, along with her efforts toward repayment prior to discovery, as basis for rendering a largely commuted sentence.

An email from a sports shop to collect $38,000 in delinquent payments was the first sign the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association noticed, suggesting something was amiss in its financial department. Upon further investigation, the association discovered its former treasurer, Lela West, had used funds for personal expenses, including car repairs, vacations and cash withdrawals. Though the association is unsure of the stolen amount, its current president, John White, speculates that bank accounts should total nearly $200,000, while current statements show a paltry $6,000 in combined accounts. Charged with 24 counts of embezzlement, West pled guilty and agreed to pay $150,000 in restitution. Her 10-year prison sentence was suspended to eight days after West made a $52,000 lump-sum payment. Because of donor distrust in the aftermath of the scandal, donations are down at the association, causing the rowing community to contend with older equipment and deteriorating facilities. White is unsure if the association will ever recover from the misdeed and admonishes other organizations to “never trust anyone.”

These three Virginia cases are not uncommon nationwide. When a turbulent economy converges with the speed and ease of currency movement (especially across technological platforms), prime opportunities for embezzlement occur. Whether stolen funds are derived from complex, white-collar schemes or low-tech scams by lone culprits, these crimes often go undetected for years. The amount and frequency of embezzled money can be devastating over time, especially for businesses and non-profits that may lack stringent financial oversight.

Embezzlement can involve various types of fraudulent activity, with common maneuvers that may include: skimming, check forgery, non-registered sales, payoffs and kickbacks, Ponzi schemes and other methods of larceny. Not surprisingly, some embezzlers use their ill-gotten gains to support lavish lifestyles while other perpetrators are simply engaging in the criminal conduct to sustain themselves. Whatever the reason, embezzlement can be the ruin of unsuspecting small businesses as well as large corporate enterprises.

Finding expert counsel in the area of financial fraud is crucial for anyone accused of embezzlement. More information about the crime of embezzlement can be found here. Contact our law office today at (202) 600-9900 to develop your defense strategy with a seasoned Virginia embezzlement lawyer.