…And once again we are reminded of this year’s movie The Watchmen, where the catchphrase was “Who watches the Watchmen?” The setting is Boston’s northern neighbor, Salem, Massachusetts. The person is Marie M., 38, a former accounting clerk of Lawrence’s Probation Department (hereinafter, the “Defendant”). That’s right, the same probation department entrusted to oversee criminal defendants as they try to follow advice and role models to work their way back onto the “straight and narrow”. The Defendant’s current position is beside her defense attorney, facing charges of embezzlement in the amount of more than two million dollars.
According to the Commonwealth, the Defendant had crafted an elaborate white collar scheme that managed to elude detection for nearly three years. During her 19 years with the department, she allegedly managed to employ a host of complex accounting maneuvers to pocket approximately $12,000 a week from 2006 through this summer, when she left work amid troubling questions posed by suspicious auditors.
Last Thursday, the Defendant was in court in Salem Superior Court, facing felony charges. During the hearing, prosecutors marveled what they called an intricate and sophisticated scheme. The Defendant was apparently the only person in the department authorized to change entries in the court’s accounting system and she is said to have used this position to manipulate records and bank deposits to cover her tracks. Further, prosecutors allege that auditors who uncovered the alleged fraud had only encountered one of the Defendant’s methods (known as a “negative, non-money error reversal”) once or twice over the past 20 years.
The Defendant is also accused of pilfering courthouse fees paid in cash and then submitting falsified money orders to mask the theft. The Commonwealth also believes that the Defendant acted alone.
On September 30th, the Defendant was arrested for allegedly stealing $6,350. Since then, however, investigators say they discovered that much more had been stolen. She was indicted on the newer charges, which include Larceny of property over $250 and submitting false written reports.
The Defendant’s lawyer has made a statement of surprise over how much money was allegedly stolen. He has pointed to his client’s modest lifestyle is inconsistent with the charges. “I was completely surprised when I heard the allegation of $2 million,” he said. “There is a vast, vast gulf between what the government says has happened here and what her lifestyle is.”
The Defendant’s mother, who attended the hearing, apparently lives in the Dominican Republic. As a result, the court expressed concern that the Defendant might flee. The judge opined, “She could well have stashed money there…There is strong evidence of embezzlement of large amounts of money.”
Despite the fact that the only thing that had been proven by the Defendant’s mother was that the Defendant’s mother lives in the Dominican Republic, the court set bail at $400,000 in cash. In addition, the Defendant was forced to surrender her passport after her initial arrest.
Despite her mother’s residence, the Defendant is an American citizen born in Methuen. In 2008 she was paid $47,000. She lives in a single-family residence in Lawrence valued at $228,800. Interestingly, she declared bankruptcy in 2000.
This is likely to be a piece of evidence that both sides will claim support their arguments.
Apparently, the criminal allegations arose from a routine audit in February that found discrepancies, triggering a broader investigation. When auditors interviewed the Defendant, the prosecutors say that she stonewalled, prosecutors . “She was nervous, disoriented, frozen-up, and ignored their requests for documents,” claims the Commonwealth. In July she abruptly stopped showing up for work.
The paper trail ended with the Defendant according to the Commonwealth. Prosecutors also claim that the discrepancies were limited to the days that the Defendant worked.
If convicted the Defendant faces up to five years in state prison.
Whether or not the Defendant is convicted of the charges, I should not be surprising anybody by suggesting that her career of being in such trusted positi8ons is at an end.
Unfortunately, while presumed innocent, she is, and will continue to be, assumed guilty. The court’s suspicions as stated at the bail hearing is evidence of that.
“Ok, Sam, let’s assume for the sake of argument that I am not a government official entrusted with money being accused of embezzlement. What, then, does this story have to do with me?”
It would appear that, guilty or innocent, the Defendant is someone who thought she would never find herself in her present predicament. The fact is that anyone can be investigated with or without their knowledge. Once one does have a sign that they are being investigated, it is simply foolhardy not to retain experienced counsel to help them deal with the upcoming storm.
It would appear that the Defendant did not do this. Instead, she thought she could “go it alone” when speaking to the investigators. Unprepared for what was to come, she apparently made various statements that appeared to be dishonest, evasive and even nonsensical. This not only provides for more suspicion, but also statements that can be used against the defendant when the charges come.
Once again, the message is the same. If you find yourself in this, or similar, circumstances, going solo with investigators who are most likely already bui8lding a case is like requesting a fitting for the Commonwealth Bracelets of Shame.
An attorney can advise when and when not to make statements. An attorney could potentially scope out the situation before any such meeting. Finally, an attorney would certainly be present at any such questioning to look out for land mines.
Anybody remember a certain blog from last week about Tiger Woods?
In sum, get an attorney to at least advise you. Should you find yourself or someone you care about to be facing such serious charges as these and wish to discuss the matter with me, please feel free to call me at (617) 206-1942.
For the full article upon which today’s blog is based, go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/12/sophisticated_s.html
NOTE TO READERS: Unfortunately, due to last week’s internet issues, Friday’s planned Blog about making statements to police was not posted. Particularly given today’s story, we see how important said posting is. It will appear this coming Friday and will also answer the question “Won’t it look suspicious if I contact a lawyer?”