Gravette woman who stole million from Benton County going to prison, ordered to pay restitution
FAYETTEVILLE — A former accountant who stole $1 million from Benton County was sentenced Thursday to almost three years in…
FAYETTEVILLE — A former accountant who stole $1 million from Benton County was sentenced Thursday to almost three years in federal prison and ordered to pay back both the county and the IRS.
Connie Guild, 52, of Gravette was a senior accounting specialist until she was fired in September 2016 and was the custodian of the county’s travel fund.
By the numbers
Here’s a look at how much money Connie Guild stole from Benton County by year.
• 2007: $56,720
• 2008: $130,441
• 2009: $197,662
• 2010: $118,560
• 2011: $116,059
• 2012: $118,840
• 2013: $108,460
• 2014: $103,110
• 2015: $61,010
• 2016: $22,860
Source: Staff report
Guild waived indictment, was arraigned and pleaded guilty in April to theft concerning programs that receive federal money and filing a false federal income tax return. Guild agreed to repay or forfeit assets amounting to $1,033,762 as part of her plea agreement.
U.S. District Judge Tim Brooks sentenced Guild to 34 months in prison on each charge, to run concurrently. That will be followed by three years supervised release on the theft charge and one year supervised release on the tax charge. She was ordered to pay a $100 special assessment per charge but no fine.
Brooks ordered Guild to pay the county restitution and $279,726 restitution to the IRS.
Guild is being allowed to self-report to prison by Oct. 13. She remains free on $5,000 bond until that time.
Guild cried as she told the judge she was ashamed of what she had done and she lost friends and family because of her behavior. She told Brooks she knew better and was raised better.
“Embezzlement is a serious offense just period and in general. You were entrusted with this vault full of cash and you were using it as your own personal piggy bank,” Brooks told Guild. “The court can’t just let you walk away from here with a slap on the wrist.”
Brooks noted Guild took at least five Caribbean vacations, which didn’t square with her argument she took the money to get through some lean economic times.
“A hundred thousand dollars a year is not merely bridging the gap,” Brooks said.
Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said the sentencing brought mixed feelings in county government.
“I think for some in the organization, this will help with closure,” Moehring said. “People who were close to her were really hurt by this. For many of us, we’ve moved on.”
A Legislative Audit report done on the county’s 2015 budget reported the thefts “resulted from internal control deficiencies.”
Moehring said Brenda Guenther, comptroller, has done a great deal to ward off anything similar in the future. The travel cash fund has been eliminated and policies reviewed and updated to require greater segregation of duties and improved oversight and review.
The county also hired a firm to do a risk assessment to recommend more changes. Additional changes included an inventory of all county assets valued at $5,000 or more, changes to the use of purchase cards that included assigning them to specific individuals, and ending the use of “generic” credit cards.
“”The overall level of vigilance in the county is up,” Moehring said. “Brenda has done a very good job of changing the way some things are done in the county.”
Guenther said the county has received $297,500 from the Arkansas Insurance Department through an insurance policy covering such losses. The policy has a $300,000 limit on claims, with a $2,500 deductible. Otherwise, she said, the county hasn’t been notified of any restitution.
“I’m not aware of any that’s been received,” she said.
Tom Allen, justice of the peace and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he’s still troubled.
“It’s a tragic and a sad story,” Allen said. “For one, she stole money from us. But two, you hate to see it happen. She was someone we all liked and cared for and trusted.”
Allen said he supports the changes the county has made to tighten the financial controls.
“At the end of the day, people are going to find ways to do bad things,” he said. “But we’re in much better shape today than we were several years ago.”
How it went down
Guild started work for the county in 2000 and began taking money by submitting false claims in 2007, according to her plea agreement.
Guild would post “additional undocumented disbursement” to legitimate travel claims, according to auditors. Most of the undocumented disbursements were coded to fuel costs “and resulted in the County Treasurer issuing a check to the travel fund for significantly more than the legitimate, documented travel expenses.”
The check issued to the travel fund would be cashed, and Guild would replenish the travel fund for the legitimate, documented travel expenses “leaving the undocumented cash balance unaccounted for.”
The travel fund consisted of cash kept in a safe in the accounting department and used as advance money for employees who traveled on county business, according to the plea agreement.
“The defendant filed personal federal income tax returns for the years 2007 through 2015 reporting wages from Benton County,” according to the plea agreement. “The defendant did not report the income she embezzled from Benton County during those years.”
The government is entitled to the forfeiture of any property or other assets belonging to Guild up to the value of the $1 million judgment against her, according to Guild’s forfeiture agreement. Substitute property belonging to Guild is appropriate for forfeiture if the actual proceeds of the theft cannot be located, it says.
Guild was facing up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on the theft conviction and up to three years in prison and fines of up to $100,000 on the false tax return conviction.
The investigation was done by IRS Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Benton County receives federal money in various forms, according to the plea agreement.
NW News on 09/15/2017
Source: NWA Online Northwest Arkansas News Gravette woman who stole million from Benton County going to prison, ordered to pay restitution