Embezzlement: A study in betrayal
Tim Whyte · March 23, 1997
Imagine the betrayal: You trust someone with your business, authorize them to sign checks on your behalf. Perhaps even make them a nice deal when they purchase company merchandise.
They seem to be a faithful, reliable employee.
But after six or seven years on the job, you stumble across a clue that leads you to the discovery that this person has been stealing from you, every month. And not just office supplies -- a pen here, a notebook there.
No. Thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands, cumulatively, over the course of a half-dozen years or so.
I wonder. I wish we could have strapped a high-tech timing device to the synapses of Joe Caso's brain to see exactly how many milliseconds it took him to decide to fire Margaret Helen Harrison after he allegedly -- we have to say allegedly, you know -- discovered that she had been stealing from his car dealership for the past seven years.
How quickly can you make that decision? How long does it take? How fast can the synapses fire, to relay that message to the appropriate parts of the brain, and for the information to sink in, and the anger to snap to attention, and for you to sort out the options and make the near-instant, inevitable decision that this person, whom you have entrusted with key aspects of your business, shall no longer be an employee?
I figure it had to be pretty well close to an instant. None of this modern-day huggy-kissy-face pussy-footing around where you give someone 19 written warnings that if they don't cut it out, you might have to consider not giving them a raise and then maybe, if that doesn't work, you'll start giving them the other 19 warnings you have to give them before you fire them and they file a wrongful termination claim.
No. This is the kind of incident that brings us back to Medieval Management 101.
Now ... And I'm calling the cops.
Betrayal is a vicious thing. It is the stuff of some of the world's best literature -- how many Shakespearean tragedies have it as a theme? -- and the cause of some of the greatest pain ever inflicted.
I don't know Joe Caso. I know he does some good-guy things in town, donating cars to worthy causes and such. And I know he's probably cringing as this scenario goes public, worrying about the effect it could have on his business and its image. And I know he has been a big advertiser in the paper, which is nice because, hey, journalists have to eat, too.
I wouldn't know Joe if I saw him on the street. Yet I know there's no way he, nor anyone else running a business, deserves to be treated the way he was allegedly treated by his "trusted" employee.
She reportedly told Sheriff's deputies it was as kind of modern-day Robin Hood deal: She stole from the dealership to "help others."
What a heap of cow patties that is. In the next breath, she is reportedly telling Sheriff's deputies she used the embezzled money to pay her own personal credit card bills.
She even, according to law enforcement officials, used embezzled money to buy a pair of Toyotas from her employer. Talk about an employee discount.
It was a scam that, absent a lucky break for the employer, could go unnoticed: Allegedly by juggling checks, forging another employee's signature and altering checks that were supposed to go to the DMV, Harrison reportedly shifted $4,000 to $7,000 per month to her own credit cards, and used "this week's sales" to pay "last week's" DMV bills. Do the math. Four grand here, five grand there. Pretty soon we're talking a lot of money.
On Tuesday, Frontier Toyota got one of those lucky breaks. An employee was sifting through canceled checks and noticed that the typeface identifying the payee was different on some of them. From there, they reportedly pieced it all together. Caso told Sheriff's deputies he suspected it added up to a grand total in the neighborhood of $360,000.
Imagine being given a position of responsibility, abusing it, stealing a heap of cash every month, and having to face your employer, every day, for years. How does your conscience handle that? How does your soul survive? How do you justify it to yourself?
There are those who will have no sympathy for a crime victim like Frontier Toyota, a successful car dealership that grosses $100 million or so each year. Like Caso told the Sheriff's department, you might not notice a missing $7,000 here and there when you write more than a thousand checks per month and do more than $100 million in business per year. But the hurt, for the owners and leaders of such a high-dollar business, is more emotional than monetary: I trusted you, and you screwed me.
That betrayal, that disloyalty, is what gets me: You give someone the keys to the building, and the authority to sign checks on your behalf, and they steal -- a lot -- from you. I've never experienced such betrayal, and I hope I never do. Being a victim of such a crime has got to be in a league with being cheated upon by your spouse or, worse, being unwittingly lured into a Tupperware party.
I don't know exactly how it all shook out at Frontier Toyota. I'm operating on the reasonably safe assumption that the embezzlement suspect will no longer be drawing a paycheck -- or any other kind of check -- from Frontier Toyota. I haven't talked to Joe Caso to gauge his anger, or his pain. So I can only imagine the speed with which one makes the decision after discovering the knife in one's back:
You are immediately jettisoned. Pack up your personal belongings and get the hell out of my sight.
Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of
The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
© 1997, THE SIGNAL -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED