By Betsy Cribb
When a Virginia woman embezzled from a government agency, she got away with $4,000. But investigators with the state police spent $6,300 unwinding her paper trail.
When a man stole $250,000 from a nonprofit organization, it cost more than $50,000 to make the case.
And neither of those prosecutions took into consideration the cost of court time.
Catching and successfully prosecuting people who commit fraud and embezzlement is time consuming and costly, law enforcement officials say – for taxpayers as well as victims.
“We’re very thorough … we want to make sure we don’t miss anything. That’s why we go all the extra miles … we don’t like surprises,” Special Agent Accountant Susan Jones said. “We know financials sometimes better than the victims.”
Jones, who works for the Virginia State Police, said because embezzlers earn the trust of their employers, they quite often can sign checks and make deposits and withdrawals without oversight.
“There’s a lot of trust put into individuals. With that level of trust, there’s not a lot of oversight, if any, going on,” Jones said. “One person is handling the payroll and the financial records. It’s when that person leaves or the accounting systems change — pen and paper to computer — that’s when people get caught.”
That’s what happened in the case of Marilyn Dudley, who embezzled almost $160,000 from Collierstown Presbyterian Church, before she was caught.
Dudley’s case is typical, said Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony McFaddin. McFaddin spent six months investigating her crime.
“One of the first things we did was basically try to collect all the records of all the bank accounts and all the budget reports over the past 10 years, so it requires a lot of search warrants and a lot of effort to get all those documents in, and then a lot of effort to go through the documents and find those discrepancies,” McFaddin said.
The cost of that work staggered him.
“I don’t make that much a year,” he said.
And the sheriff’s office likely would have had no idea a crime had occurred if church members hadn’t initially gotten suspicious, he said.
When Dudley got sick and could no longer balance the books herself, church members discovered that money was missing, said The Rev. Skip Hastings.
“We were going ‘uh oh.’ The money we thought we had had wasn’t in there,” Hastings said. “And we began to investigate and realized the funds just weren’t there.”
Church member Linda Wilder said it took her nearly 600 hours to go through every single bank statement from the 12 years that Dudley served as treasurer.
“I didn’t want to make a mistake,” Wilder said. “A mistake could be deadly.”
Despite the lengthy and expensive investigations that embezzlements require, Jones said, there is still a public perception that white-collar crime is victimless.
But that’s just not the case.
“There are people who spend years, if not decades, trying to build a business,” Jones said, “and one person stealing money, one person committing embezzlement, can take down their business.”
Hendley Badcock and Krysta Huber contributed to this story.