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Embezzlement 101

Robert Downes - January 19th, 2006
A few of us here in Northern Michigan received a surprise bonus over the Christmas holidays. It was a payout from a distant and obscure banking organization to former members of the old Bay Area Medical Federal Credit Union many years ago.
It was so long ago that I’d all but forgotten the matter until receiving a check for $153 -- my share from an amount that had been embezzled, repayed, parsed and trickled down through the years after all the lawyers, accountants and regulators got their cut, I’m sure.
I remember the Fouch family who were at the heart of looting the credit union for $2.5 million or more. They were nice people. Every two weeks I’d stop by the credit union to cash my check and we‘d make small talk about things like vacation plans. Whenever there was something squirrelly about the balance in my checkbook, manager Jay Fouch -- the family patriarch -- would hasten to explain that it was just a fund balance transfer miscrepancy or some such rigamarole, and the problem would be fixed until the next time.
Then came the anonymous calls to the authorities that the Fouch family was buying expensive cars, homes, toys and vacations. They were like a family that was dancing on spinning logs over icy water, juggling accounts until the whole mess sent them underwater.
These days, it’s practically raining embezzlers in Northern Michigan from Manistee to Petoskey and beyond. You can hardly open the daily paper without reading of yet another township official, private employee, or person holding a public trust getting caught red-handed.
And embezzlement goes much deeper than what we hear about in the newspaper: many local businesses are wrecked because of embezzlements that are settled out of court and never reach the press. “Inside jobs” that can destroy a business as effectively as an armed robbery.
But many embezzlers have a habit of flashing their bling around, making blunders that would make a burglar blush. It’s like they’re screaming to get caught. Consider these recent cases:

• Last June, Jerome “Jay” Wisniewski, the former director of Manistee’s housing commission, was charged with embezzling $1.2 million over a five year period. Apparently, Wisniewski never thought anyone would suspect, even after he purchased fancy homes, a 1989 Rolls Royce Silver Spur worth more than $46,000 and a 1999 Porsche 911 valued at over $31,000, among other goodies.
His sentence: three years in prison and restitution.
• Also in June, Karla Sue Lockman of Boyne City was charged with embezzling $675,000 or more from the Northern Preferred Title Company. And talk about covering your tracks: she paid cash for a $262,000 home and for two vehicles worth more than $67,000.
The company was forced to lay off most of its 16 employees. As of last month, Lockman was planning an insanity defense. No kidding.
• In November, Ricky Dean Conway, a former Northern Michigan Education Association treasurer, was accused of embezzling over $40,000. Some of this involved getting cash advances at casinos with the association’s credit cards -- like no one’s ever going to get wise to that...
• In October, Deborah Jean Tuszynski, former finance director for Crossroads, a non-profit that aids the developmentally disabled, turned herself in after it was reported that $20,000 was missing during an audit.
• In March, a postmaster in Cross Village confessed to embezzling $100,000 to support her gambling habit.

And so it goes. East Bay Township Clerk Janice Gee was convicted last week of embezzling $62,000 from taxpayers. She’s one of three past or present township officials who’ve been charged with crimes in office.
Too bad none of those embezzlers (and those who are waiting to get caught) didn’t heed the lesson of the Fouch family, which plundered my old credit union.
It’s a lesson that crime does not pay.
Jay Fouch was seriously injured after shooting himself while fleeing the police. He was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison and ordered to repay $1,313,000. His former wife, son and daughter-in-law got sentences from three-to-seven years and were ordered to repay amounts ranging from $200,000 to $887,000.
Of course, some might say that crime does pay, once the final tally is taken: Jerome “Jay” Wisniewski, for instance, received only a three year sentence for the dismal crime of ripping off the poor in his role as director of the housing commission. He could have gotten 20 years.
So, would three years in the clink with Michigan‘s most dangerous citizens be worth the risk to you? That, and spending the rest of your life paying back those you stole from? Some clearly feel the risk is worth taking.
Considering all of the bungled embezzling that’s taking place in Northern Michigan these days, perhaps our local colleges should start offering a new major in the art of fleecing your workplace. Embezzlement 101.
College courses in how to establish offshore bank accounts; how to flee to your new home in North Africa; how to change your identity; tips on plastic surgery; or how to make the best of your coming years in prison would sure be helpful to those planning a career in embezzlement.

 
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