A Maryland woman has pleaded guilty to one of the largest embezzlement schemes ever to hit the nonprofit industry in the Washington, D.C., area. The woman, who had been an administrative assistant, pleaded guilty to criminal theft charges after reportedly taking more than $5 million from an academic organization in the area. She had worked at the Association of American Medical Colleges, the organization that administers medical school entrance exams.
Official reports show that the woman perpetuated the thefts over an eight-year period by setting up bank accounts to facilitate the theft by fraud. The woman, who was 44 when she started at the organization in 1998, set up the bank accounts in the names of companies that were similar to vendors who provided services to AAMC. She would then approve falsified invoices to the legitimate groups. When the checks were sent to the organization, she would deposit the money into the falsified accounts.
Forensic investigators say that the woman's theft by fraud started off small - with just $5,000 taken in one 14-month period between 2005 and 2006 - but it escalated quickly. During the first four months of 2009, the woman was accused of taking nearly $218,000 from the organization with just four fraudulent checks. Auditors reported that the problems were intensified by the fact that the woman was allowed to sign-off on invoices as large as $20,000. The organization has now changed that policy so that two people must sign off on invoices, and those who approve the invoices are employed at higher levels within the group.
The woman's plea deal will require her to pay $5.1 million back to the organization. She could face a 51-month prison term when sentenced in late February.
In this case, the woman chose to enter a guilty plea, which allowed her to negotiate for a plea agreement. Guilty pleas are appropriate in some cases, but they are not helpful in all criminal proceedings. Criminal defense attorneys can help their clients learn about the benefits and drawbacks of entering a guilty plea.
www.washingtonpost.com, "Md. woman admits stealing millions from D.C. nonprofit" Ann E. Marimow & Mary Pat Flaherty, Nov. 25, 2013