Check This Out

By Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA

The executive secretary of a local charity was beloved for her hard work and generous nature. Unfortunately, she was working hard to tamper with the organization's checks so she could be generous to herself. 

Melissa Robinson was a devoted wife with two adorable children. She volunteered her time and money to many community organizations and was the executive secretary of the Nashville chapter of an international charitable organization. However, perceptions can deceive. For five years, Robinson had been stealing from the chapter by tampering with its checks. "Even if somebody had told (the board of directors) that this lady was stealing," said David Mensel, CFE, CPA, a member of the organization, "they would have said, "Impossible, she'd never do it.'"

As executive secretary, Robinson was one of two people in the chapter who was allowed to sign checks on its bank accounts. As a result, she bilked at least $60,800 before chapter board members ended Robinson's scam.

Mensel suspects that Robinson stole far more than that because the amount of currency that flowed through her office was undocumented. "It is just a supposition, given her behavior with the checking accounts," Mensel explains. "As well, we saw a basic decline in collections from some activities that the organization had been involved in for many years."

Robinson was able to commit fraud because of the relaxed operations of the Nashville chapter's board of directors. The organization's charter mandated that an independent audit be performed annually. However, during Robinson's tenure as executive secretary, not one yearly audit was completed. Mensel describes the board of directors during that time as "lackadaisical."

Once Robinson earned the executive secretary position, apparently she began pilfering from the organization's three bank accounts a little at a time. Although the accounts required two signatures per check, Robinson wrote checks to herself and others by signing her name and forging second signatures. Mensel says she would usually write a check to herself or to cash and record the transaction in the organization's books as a check to a legitimate source. If anyone glanced at the books, they would see the names of familiar hotels and office supply stores.

"The club meetings were regularly held in a hotel in town or at one of these executive meeting clubs," Mensel recalls, "and those bills would run from two to three thousand dollars a month. The executive secretary would ... post in the checkbook that she had paid the hotel, but the actual check would be made out to someone else."

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