By Michael Wheeler
SACRAMENTO – The victim arrived in Sacramento County Superior Court Monday with a folder containing, by his estimate, about 500 pieces of paper—a former employee had embezzled money from his company and he was well-prepared to get it back.
The former employee, Laura Shelly, was found to have forged 31 checks and made six false wire transfers over the course of her time with the victim’s construction company. The value of the forged checks totaled $30,529.97, with the wire transfers contributing an additional, unspecified amount on top of that.
Shelly was sentenced to a year in jail, but did it on Sheriff’s Work Project on the felony embezzlement charge in January of 2020.
The victim, for his part, was systematic—hence, the 500 pieces of paper—as he testified where the money came from and how he had determined the amount he wished to receive in restitution.
He first became aware of an issue when his daughter called to thank him for depositing $5,000 in her account, which he had not done.
After further investigation, he discovered that Shelly had been writing checks to herself and forging his signature using old checkbooks which listed the addresses of properties that the victim no longer owned.
“Once I knew she was forging my name, I contacted the bank and said, ‘heads up, if you see this person,’ and I went to her bank and said, ‘If you see this person, those are not my signatures.’”
After the county sheriff’s department expressed reluctance to help investigate and he decided that the cost of a forensic accountant was excessive, the victim conducted his own investigation.
With the help of a bookkeeper, he discovered more fraudulent payments in the bookkeeping software his firm uses. They had come from both the firm’s general account and its payroll account, with all containing his forged signature and with a recipient of Shelly, her son, or a utility company.
Beyond just the money embezzled, the victim requested that he and his employees be paid for the time that they had spent investigating the theft. He estimated that his bookkeeper had spent 94.5 hours on the investigation, which she had tracked, while another employee spent 20 hours on it.
He asked to be personally compensated for 200 hours, “but it’s substantially past that now.” His requested sum was $35,000, which he calculated based on his yearly post tax income.
“My business, I make gross, if you look at my tax returns, I grossed about $850,000. I netted about $350,000 or $400,000, so if you take $175 an hour times 2,000 hours in a year, then you get to those numbers. I took my net income that I have to pay taxes on, and I divided it, and I came to a reasonable number of 175.”
During cross-examination, Assistant Public Defender Sameera Ali largely restricted herself to going over the victim’s accounts again. However, during argument she stated that there were inconsistencies in some of the valuation of the requested restitution, and she specified that one check should not be included in the final sum.
Following the arguments, Judge Richard Sueyoshi found that the district attorney and victim had established sufficient evidence for the awarding of restitution. He ruled The victim was to receive $72,972.47 in restitution, bringing a saga that began in November 2019 to an end.
Apparently, the 500 pieces of paper paid off for the victim.
Michael Wheeler is a junior at UC Davis, where he studies History and Economics. He is from Walnut Creek, California.
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