Category Archives for "Asset Misappropriation"

Andy Griffith Steal
Dec 12

Would Andy Griffith Steal? Receipt Fraud in Law Enforcement

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Would Andy Griffith steal? Maybe not. But other law officers do. Thankfully, most don’t.

The Theft

If you’ve watched Andy Griffith as much as I have, you may find it hard to believe a (small town) officer would steal–but it happens.

Andy Griffith Steal

A friend of mine (we’ll call him John) audits a small Georgia city (this is a true story). One year he was reviewing the planning analytics for the audit, reviewing five years of comparative data. In scanning the comparisons, he noticed the police fines had fallen off significantly. So John asked the police chief why the fines were down.

The police chief (we’ll call him Robert) responded, “I took it.”

John laughed and said, “I’m serious, why do you think the fine revenue dropped?”

“I said I took it.”

John was stunned. It was hard for him to absorb what he was hearing. After all, fraudsters don’t generally confess on the spot–but this one did. And the chief was well-known and well-liked, a man known for his integrity.

The discussion continued as John inquired about how the chief took the money. Here’s the deal.

Robert had two receipt books, one for cash and one for checks. When checks were received, he would write a receipt from the checks receipt book–those funds were turned over to the city clerk. When cash was received, he wrote receipts from the cash receipts book–those monies went into his pocket. Simple, but effective, as he stole over $50,000.

The Weakness

So, what control weakness allowed this theft?

No one was controlling the issuance of the city receipt books. Also, the city clerk should have noticed the lack of cash payments being received for fines.

The Fix

How can we remedy this problem?

When governments use physical receipt books, assign the duty of purchasing and issuing receipt books to a particular person. He or she should maintain a log of the receipt books and who has each one.

Surprise audits of those receiving funds is another way to combat theft. These reviews can be performed by the government’s internal audit staff or by an outside CPA or Certified Fraud Examiner.

White-collar crime is real, so stay vigilant. (Even so, I still can’t believe the real Andy Griffith would steal.)

Stealing unaccrued receivable checks
Dec 11

Stealing Unaccrued Receivable Checks is Easy

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Stealing Unaccrued Receivable Checks

Some fraudsters steal unaccrued receivable checks and convert them to cash. In this article, I explain the mechanics of the theft and how you can prevent it.

The Theft

Susan is an hospital executive that has the authority to approve purchases of medical devices. She commonly receives rebate checks from vendors. Since she negotiates the purchase contracts, the vendors mail the rebate checks to her. Some of these checks are north of $50,000.

A while back she received a rebate check and placed it in her top left-hand drawer, thinking she would take it to accounting the next day. But she forgot.

stealing unaccrued receivable checks

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

A month later she opened her drawer, and there it was. Oops! She hurriedly took the check to the receipting department and said, “Gosh, I must be losing my mind.” They all laughed, knowing it was an innocent mistake. But in the course of these events, she realized that no one knew she had the check. Why would they? Susan approves the purchases, and she provides the rebate information to no one. So, the rebates are not accrued in the general ledger.

Not long thereafter, Susan decides to retain two of the rebate checks totaling over $100,000. She places them in the same left-hand drawer, but this time, she does so on purpose. And then she waits—several weeks. No one calls about the checks. It’s obvious that no one knows she has them.

Susan converts the checks to cash by depositing them into a new bank account that she has opened in the name of the hospital. She is the sole authorized signer for the new bank account.

Now, let’s see what the control weaknesses are and how we can remedy this problem. 

The Weakness

The weakness is that no one is tracking or accruing the rebate checks.

The Fix

How can we cure this weakness?

Determine what companies provide rebates checks (and any other checks commonly received and not accrued). Send confirmations to the paying parties and compare the confirmed amounts with activity in the general ledger.

A master list of rebate companies should be maintained by someone in accounting, and the related activity should be monitored by comparing receipting information to this list. When possible, accrue rebate receivables.

White-Collar Crime

This is one more example of white-collar crime. Click here for many more articles about theft. For a detailed article about auditing receivables, click here.

splitting payments
Dec 07

Splitting Payments to Circumvent Approval Requirements

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Some fraudsters split payments to circumvent approval requirements. In this article, I show you how this type of theft works and what you can do to prevent it.

The Theft

The maintenance supervisor, Billy, wants to make a fraudulent payment to ABC Hardware for $9,900. (ABC Hardware is owned by his cousin.) So, Billy wants to avoid his company’s review process. He knows that all checks over $5,000 require the physical signature of the finance director. All checks below $5,000 are signed by the computer. What’s a boy to do? Well, Billy can split the transaction–two checks for $4,950 each. That will work.

Billy asks his cousin for two ABC Hardware invoices of $4,950 rather than the one for $9,900. Afterwards, Billy approves each invoice, and the payments are made.

splitting payments

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

So, Billy tries the scheme again, and it works. Then, he does so repeatedly. His cousin rewards him with free trips to South Dakota, his favorite hunting destination.

The Weakness

No one is querying the check register for payments just below the threshold. Also, bids were not obtained.

The Fix

Download the check register into Excel (or any database package). Then, sort the payments and look for repeated payments–just below the threshold of $5,000–to the same vendor.

Require bids for significant expenses, and retain the bids as support for the payments.

Difference in Bribes and Gratuities

Learning tip: The hunting trip is referred to as a gratuity rather than a bribe. Why? Bribes are inducement payments made before the purchase decision. Gratuities–free trips in this example–are given after the vendor payments. The purpose of the gratuity is to reward the complicit person (Billy). Then, in the future, Billy knows the drill and expects more of the same.

White-Collar Crime

Splitting payments is a form of white-collar crime. There are many ways that professionals steal. Click here for more fraud-related examples (some of which are hard to believe).

Rita Crundwell story
Dec 06

The Rita Crundwell Story: Why Some Ranches Have a Bad Smell

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Is it possible for one person to steal over $53 million from a city with an annual budget of less than $10 million? Yes. The Rita Crundwell story provides a cautionary tale for small businesses, governments, and nonprofits.

The Theft

Rita Crundwell, comptroller, and treasurer of Dixon, Illinois stole $53 million over a twenty-year period. The city of 16,000 residents held Crundwell in high esteem. One friend described her as “sweet as pie.” Another said: “You could not find a nicer person.”

So why did she steal? It appears Rita just enjoyed the good life. She used the money to fund one of the top quarter horse ranches in the country, and she did it with style: Some of the funds were used to purchase over $300,000 of jewelry and a $2.1 million motor coach vehicle.

Rita Crundwell story

The picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Her annual salary? $80,000.

The city’s annual budget? $6 to $8 million

Were yearly audits performed? Yes.

Were budgets approved? Yes.

Too Much Trust

So how did this happen? Rita Crundwell won the trust of those around her—especially that of mayor and council. In April 2011, finance commissioner and veteran council member, Roy Bridgeman, praised Crundwell calling her “a big asset to the city as she looks after every tax dollar as if it were her own.” (Too much trust is the main cause of white-collar crime.)

It was a disturbing moment when Dixon Mayor James Burke presented the FBI with evidence of Crundwell’s fraud. Burke later recalled his emotions and words: “I literally became sick to my stomach, and I told him that I hoped my suspicions were all wrong.” Such a response is understandable given that Crundwell had worked for the city for decades. She had fooled everyone.

Secret Bank Account

According to the mayor, the city’s annual audits raised no red flags, and the city’s primary bank never reported anything suspicious. So how did she steal the money? In 1990, Crundwell opened a secret bank account in the name of the city (titled the RSDCA account: the initials stood for reserve sewer development construction account). Crundwell was the only authorized check signer for the account, and the RSDCA bank account was never set up on the city’s general ledger. The City’s records reflected none of the RSDCA deposits or disbursements.

Crundwell would write and sign manual checks from a legitimate city capital project fund checking account, completing the check payee line with “Treasurer.” (Yes, Crundwell had the authority to issue checks with just her signature—even for legitimate city bank accounts.) She would then deposit the check into her secret account. From the bank’s perspective, a transfer had been made from one city bank account to another (from the capital projects fund to the reserve sewer development construction fund).

Accounting Cover-up

While the capital project fund disbursement was recorded on the city’s books, the RSDCA deposit was not. A capital project fund journal entry was made for each check debiting capital outlay expense and crediting cash. But no entry was made to the city’s records for the deposit to the RSDCA account. Once the money was in the RSDCA account, Crundwell wrote checks for personal expenses—and she did so for over twenty years.

To complete her deceit, Crundwell provided auditors with fictitious invoices from the Illinois Department of Transportation; these invoices included the following notation: Please make checks payable to Treasurer, State of Illinois. (So the canceled checks made out to Treasurer agreed with directions on the invoice, but the words “State of Illinois” were conveniently left off the check payee line.) Remember Crundwell was the treasurer of Dixon. 

Those invoices and the related checks were often for round dollar amounts (e.g., $250,000) and most were for more than $100,000. In one year alone, Crundwell embezzled over $5 million.

Vacation Leads to Arrest

So how was she caught? While Rita was on an extended vacation for horse shows, the city hired a replacement for her. For some reason, Crundwell’s substitute requested all bank account statements from the city’s bank. As the bank statements were reviewed, the secret bank account was discovered. And soon after that, the mayor contacted the FBI.

The Weakness

Why was Rita able to steal $53 million? Wait for it. A lack of segregation of duties.

Rita could:

  • Write checks
  • Approve payments
  • Create and monitor the budget
  • Enter transactions into the accounting system
  • Reconcile the bank statements

The Fix

Multiple people should perform accounting duties, not just one.

Moreover, accounting employees should annually take a one-week vacation (or longer). And while they are gone, someone else should perform the vacant person’s duties. The vacation itself is not the key to this control. The performance of the absent accountant’s duties is. Why? Doing so allows the replacement person to understand the work of the vacant employee. But, more importantly, the substitute can note any unusual or fraudulent activity.

Here’s another action to take: Periodically contact your organization’s bank and ask for a list of all bank accounts. Then compare the list to the bank accounts in your general ledger. If a bank account is not on the general ledger, see why. And request a copy of the related signature card from the bank.

What Happened to Rita Crundwell?

So, what happened to Rita? She was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison. Here are pictures from the Chicago Tribune that shed light on the fraud.

All the Queens Horses

Kelly Richmond Pope has masterfully captured the Rita Crundwell tale in the movie All the Queen’s Horses, available on Amazon. Think auditing is boring? Then watch the movie. It does a better job of explaining the psychological and financial damage of fraud than any textbook. 

steal with company credit cards
Dec 04

How Employees Steal with Company Credit Cards

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Employees sometimes steal with company credit cards. Today, we look at a case where one employee was able to steal over $300,000 by misusing college credit cards.

The Theft

Donna Gamble made fraudulent purchases of over $300,000 using Georgia Tech purchase cards (credit cards).

Gamble was employed by Georgia Tech in the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. As part of her job, she had access to Georgia Tech credit cards.

Gamble used the purchase cards to buy over 3,800 personal items. How did she hide her theft? She submitted false receipts to her supervisor and made fraudulent accounting entries. The thefts–taken from grant money provided to Georgia Tech by the National Science Foundation–occurred from April 2002 through April 2007. So money designed to advance educational learning was spent on personal items such:

  • A popcorn machine
  • Football tickets
  • A wave runner
  • Video games

Ms. Gamble was sentenced to two years and eight months in federal prison.

The Weakness

The internal control weakness that led to the theft was a lack of appropriate monitoring.

steal with company credit cards

Credit cards provide a simple means to bypass normal purchasing policies. Most purchasing policies require the issuance of a purchase order prior to the purchase. Such purchase orders are provided by a second person–someone other than the purchaser. So, the authorization to purchase is separate from the bookkeeping. In other words, at least two people are involved in the purchase transaction. Having multiple people involved in such transactions strengthens the controls. Why? A single person can’t make purchases alone. Consequently, theft–when such controls are in place–requires collusion. Now, it’s more difficult to steal.

Many organizations don’t require purchase orders for credit card purchases. Therefore, one person can purchase without a second person’s involvement. Even when a second person authorizes purchases, theft can occur if that person doesn’t pay sufficient attention to purchase requests (and the related documentation).

The Fix

What’s the fix? The monitoring of credit card use. Persons using company credit cards must know that someone else sees their purchases. For instance, internal auditors should routinely audit credit card activity. And the users should know that such audits occur.

Theft, like the one above, occurs when the fraudster knows no one is looking–they believe they can steal, and no one will notice.

Here are some ideas to lessen the possibility of credit card fraud:

  • Limit the number of cards issued
  • Assign each card to one person
  • Set low credit limits
  • Keep all cards in a secure location
  • Restrict card usage to particular vendors (which can be done with a purchase card)
  • Require the person to provide support for each purchase
  • If appropriate support is not provided, disallow the use of the card
  • Reconcile monthly credit card statements to supporting documentation
  • Audit personnel (internal or external) should review credit card activity
  • Provide a summary credit card activity report for each employee to the governing body or owners of the company

For more information about white-collar crime, click here.

>