IN A SEASON FOR GIVING, MANY HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR TAKING, DEFRAUDING AND PLAIN OLD STEALING

NO VIOLENCE, NO BURGLARIES OR ROBBERIES

As 2018 draws to a close, it is a time of giving for many people and businesses here in Jacksonville and the North Florida area.  A handful of seemingly successful people are facing charges or have entered pleas to charges of theft, embezzlement, schemes to defraud, insurance fraud and theft of government funds. If someone included in this post has entered a plea the the charges, that person no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence and is awaiting sentencing.  All others mentioned, who have not entered pleas, are entitled to the continued presumption of innocence and to the assistance of their counsel.  These particular defendants all happen to be well educated. They all made salaries above the local  average standard of living.  Most took advantage of being  placed into a position of trust, had access to some form of cash or disbursements,  and lastly, a few operated in  organizations that were grossly incompetent in the area of basic internal accounting controls.  There is absolutely no violence in these alleged crimes. No victim had their car burglarized, home or business burglarized or a gun stuck in their face as they went to an ATM.  These crimes took place, per reading the reports, by simple email correspondence or mainly by the filling out of paperwork on nothing more than 8 1/2 x11 copy paper. It is doubtful that any of these defendants ever had even the slightest criminal record, otherwise, they would not have held their former pre-arrest positions.  These were crimes of opportunity. These cases always have a paper trail and are difficult to defend.  The cases can be prosecuted by the Federal Government or State of Florida.

“STEALING WHEN I SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUYING” ( ROCK BAND URIAH HEEP, 1973)

Three of the largest series of fraud and thefts locally, as charged,  involved the the setting up of false vendors with subsequent false invoices, for goods and or services that never existed,  that one’s employer, client or SBA loan administrator would then disburse funds against.  Two former Jacksonville City Council members are are, so far, heading to trial in a case where an SBA loan and a loan from the city of Jacksonville were granted for a business to produce and market Barbeque sauce. Here is that indictment. Again these defendants are presumed innocent are all represented by very competent attorneys.  In St. Johns County, the highest ranking civilian employee of the Sheriff’s office reportedly stole around $700,000 over several years. She is accused of creating fake vendors, issuing fake purchase orders, creating fake invoices, approving disbursements/payments against those invoices and then mailing the government checks to a couple of addresses she supplied.  She was reportedly stealing, among other  grant money that was allocated by the federal government to fight the opioid addiction crisis in St. Johns County. Two coworkers apparently turned her in.  She was never suspected of any wrongdoing as a result of an audit. The Sheriff, David Shoar, seemed crushed by this woman’s arrest. She had been at the agency since she started in her teens, obtained a bachelor’s degree and eventually became the top administrative civilian as finance director. For years her office was steps away from the Sheriff and she was on a direct reporting basis to him. This case will be prosecuted in state court in St. Augustine, however, the investigation was done by the Polk County Sheriff’s office and the prosecutor assigned is from a completely different circuit, the 10th circuit, on what is called a Governor’s Assignment to eliminate even the perception of impropriety.  The Sheriff also thinks the department will somehow recover the almost $700,000 even when the investigation determined that only $9,000 remained. Per the news articles the defendant worked around 15 feet from the Sheriff in an office close to his and when confronted supposedly stated she had a “spending addiction.”

MORE FAKE  PURCHASE ORDERS, FAKE INVOICES, BUT 4 MILLION IS REAL MONEY

A local manufacturing company in the Springfield area of Jacksonville had an employee arrested for stealing reportedly 4 million dollars over a year’s time.  She was employed as an international tax manager but reportedly also had the unfettered ability to set up accounts with vendors,  create bogus purchase orders and invoices, and as above, approve the disbursements, again as above to an address she provided. This case is being prosecuted in state court here in the 4th judicial circuit.  The address provided by the defendant for the company checks to be sent to was to a single vendor in Macon, Georgia, who reportedly has a connection to the defendant’s husband. She has posted bond and is presumed innocent.  Per a News4Jax report, she was arrested at her work.

CREDIT UNION MAILROOM EMPLOYEE ARRESTED ON 5.4 MILLION EMBEZZLEMENT OVER 10 YEAR PERIOD

In what may be the largest scheme to defraud locally, a long term employee of Vystar credit union in Jacksonville, reportedly stole over 5 million over a 10 year period. This case is being prosecuted in federal court. According to a report, the defendant had the ability to purchase large amount of postage stamps, then sold them for 80% of their value to a postal stamp rebuyer in New York. He was indicted on several counts. If one reads the Credit Union’s statement as quoted in the news article, these thefts over 10 years were deemed to be “immaterial” and an “isolated incident.” According to reports, the defendant lived very modestly but spent quite a bit of money producing films.

A PRINCIPAL, AN ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL, A PLANNING COMMISSION BOARD MEMBER AND ANOTHER POLICE OFFICER

A  Duval County school principal was arrested in Clay County of a third degree felony charge of fraud stemming from some type of attempted  FEMA reimbursement. An Assistant Principal in the Duval County school system was given a $2000 check from a benefactor and was to hold it and turn it in to the Principal.  This assistant principal was arrested for taken information off of the check and committing fraudulent activities where he obtained money used to pay his bills apparently. The planning board member was in a volunteer position in St. Johns County when she was arrested by the federal government. She has since entered a plea to her charge which apparently stems from her submitting FEMA claims on a rental property that was not her residence. She is exposed to a maximum of five years. Another Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police officer was arrested for a crime concerning misrepresentation of off duty employment that has been the end of fellow officer careers. The actual money taken from the off duty employment scam was only $120 for this incident which makes it a petty theft misdemeanor charge. According to the undersheriff an investigation is ongoing and if the cumulative amount of money taken by fraud qualifies for a felony, then that charge will be added.  Comments have been made by JSO about the  of  the officer knowing how to manipulate the system of reporting off duty employment. This officer retired when confronted and will receive his pension per reports.  This is after he was hired to provide “security” for the local company.

THE MONEY IS USUALLY UNRECOVERABLE, IT’S GONE

Victims in these cases are usually interested in recovering the stolen money.  Prosecutors have to at least listen to a crime victim’s desires. A common strategy for defense attorneys on these type of cases is a repayment of all or at least a large part of the money that the accused ran off with.  Unlike the overwhelming bulk of property crimes that involve stealing to support a drug problem, maybe once in a while a marital infidelity or gambling problem, the money in these cases tend to be spent, at least in this writer’s experience, on lifestyle. Better houses, cars, trips, furnishings, private tuition and expensive hobbies have all been made possible with the stolen money. The money has usually vaporized. The more serious crimes, serious in how much was taken, if proven, will typically involve prison followed by very lengthy probationary sentences with the condition of restitution to the victim. Usually the best chance the victim has at recovering any money is if the defendant avoids prison, goes on probation, maintains some form of employment and makes monthly payments. In this mindset, some victims inform prosecutors they want the best shot at recovering their money, which helps a defendant avoid incarceration, sometimes.  Based on this writer’s  experience, the larger sums taken in these above-mentioned cases will never be recovered.

Almost all local criminal defense attorneys know how these cases are worked by law enforcement prior to the arrest of the defendant.  As mentioned above, there is almost always a very detailed paper trail of the money flow. Prosecutors have, at their discretion, a host of charges to bring. Schemes to Defraud is a statute under Florida Law that scores a defendant more prison than just the theft statutes.  Since these are tough cases, if confronted with these type of charges, one should sit down with a few different Duval county or North Florida criminal defense attorneys. Almost all theft or fraud attorneys offer a free, no obligation consultation. The Forbess Law Firm, 904 634-0900, has experience in these types of cases and offers free consultations.