Investigator: Gender has little to do with tendency to embezzle

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Sheila Shoemaker, 38, is the sixth local woman in the last two-and-half years to have been charged with stealing money from the place at which she was employed.

GREENCASTLE -- The recent arrest of a Greencastle woman who allegedly embezzled more than $87,000 from her employer seems to be part of a Putnam County trend.

Sheila Shoemaker, 38, is the sixth local woman in the last two-and-half years to have been charged with stealing money from the place at which she was employed.

Shoemaker was arrested on Oct. 21. She had been employed as the head teller at First Financial Bank in Greencastle and had worked there since January 2005. According to court documents, she began stealing from the bank as soon as her employment began.

Five similar stories have occurred in Putnam County over the past few years.

Rita K. Lang, 56, of Indianapolis was arrested in January 2008 and was sentenced in January 2009 to two years -- four-and-a-half months at the Putnam County Jail, four-and-a-half months on house arrest and the remainder of her sentence on probation.

Lang was convicted of one count of Class D felony theft in connection with thefts from the Van Bibber Lake Conservancy District, where she was employed as the business operations manager of the conservancy district. Her thefts, which included salary overpayments, stolen cash from the sale of conservancy district trash bags and penalties and interest caused by Lang's negligence, totaled just more than $23,000.

In early August 2008, 44-year-old Tamera S. Wade of Greencastle was arrested for stealing more than $130,000 from a Greencastle accounting firm where she had been employed for four years.

Rita K. Lang, 56, Indianapolis, was arrested in January 2008 in connection with thefts totaling more than $23,000 from the Van Bibber Lake Conservancy District.

In December 2008, Wade was sentenced on one count of Class D felony to two-and-a-half years. She was ordered to spend 18 months of the sentence on house arrest and the remainder on probation.

Wade violated the terms of her house arrest and was sent to prison in the summer of 2009. She completed the executed portion of her sentence in September of this year.

Michelle S. Everhart, 36, of Poland was arrested on Aug. 25, 2008 after an audit at Cloverdale United Methodist Church, where she was employed as an administrative assistant, revealed missing funds.

It was discovered that, beginning in March 2007, Everhart had begun stealing money from the church and making unauthorized purchases on its credit cards. The total of her thefts was just more than $5,700.

In January 2009, Everhart was convicted of one count of Class D felony theft and sentenced to six months in the Putnam County Jail, six months on home detention and one year on probation.

In December 2009, Tammy Y. Mitchener, 34, was arrested for stealing more than $56,000 from local special education cooperative Old National Trail, where she was a treasurer.

Mitchener had created a dummy corporation to which she would write checks from accounts at Old National Trail.

She was convicted of Class C felony corrupt business influence and Class D felony theft and was sentenced in July 2009 to three years executed at the Indiana Department of Correction and two years on probation.

Tamera S. Wade, 44, Greencastle, was arrested in early 2008 for stealing more than $130,000 from a Greencastle accounting firm where she had worked for four years.

In August 2009, it was discovered that Melynda J. Fenwick, 38, who had been employed as a financial secretary at Gobin Memorial United Church since 2004, had been stealing from the church nearly the whole time.

To avoid suspicion, Fenwick would make up fake bank statements. Her thefts totaled more than $350,000.

Fenwick was convicted in November 2009 on six counts of Class C felony forgery and six counts of Class D felony theft, and was sentenced to 10 years at the Indiana Department of Correction, followed by five years of probation.

The fact that so many women turn out to be embezzlers should not be all that surprising, according to Indiana State Police First Sgt. Scott Stockton, who heads up investigations on organized crime and auto theft cases for the ISP.

"Historically, women hold these types of positions where they're in charge of money and it's available to them," he said. "Look at it even at the collegiate level ... walk into a college accounting class, and probably 80 percent of the people in it are going to be female."

Stockton said embezzlement is hardly a phenomenon that is exclusive to Putnam County.

"I hear people say a lot that this is worse in Putnam County, and I really don't believe that it is," Stockton said. "I don't think Putnam County is any more susceptible than anyplace else. It just so happened that a lot of people got caught there in a short period of time. A lot of these crimes just never come to light."

That is particularly true in the private sector, Stockton said.

Michelle S. Everhart, 36, Poland, was arrested on Aug. 25, 2008, after an audit revealed more than $5,700 was missing from the Cloverdale United Methodist Church's funds.

"Private companies tend to just dismiss the employee because they don't want the publicity of a scandal," he said. "And that's not good, because then the person can go out, get another job handling money and steal again."

In all six cases, officials at the businesses or churches took a good, hard look at their financial practices.

Robert Shula, who works in the marketing department of Teacher's Credit Union's Indianapolis corporate office, and Fred Soloman, a spokesperson at PNC Bank's corporate office in Pittsburgh, both said their companies did not comment on security policies.

Phone calls to First Financial, Old National Bank, North Salem State Bank and Tri-County Bank & Trust were not returned.

Stockton said there are several red flags employers should be on the lookout for if they believe employees are embezzling.

"It's not a good idea to have one person who handles the books exclusively," he said. "But if you do, be wary if they're hesitant to produce them. They'll make up all kinds of excuses why they don't want to show them to you ... 'You don't understand the system,' etc. But the fact is, math hasn't changed, and if there's something fishy someone is going to see it."

Employees who are embezzling are also often hesitant to take days off or vacations, Stockton said.

There are also safeguards Stockton recommended companies put into place.

"Checks should need double endorsements, and we recommend not using signature stamps," he said. "There should also be more than one person who handles mail."

Tammy Y. Mitchener, 34, was arrested in December 2009 for stealing more than $56,000 from local special education cooperative Old National Trail, where she was treasurer.

In Everhart's case, Stockton said, she was the only one who got the mail, and as such she could head off the credit card statements.

"She'd even go get the mail on the weekends," he said. "And everyone said, 'Isn't she nice? Isn't she wonderful?' It's usually people like that -- people who seem to be going above and beyond the call of duty -- who are ripping you off."

Stockton said companies should also to be conscious of bonding employees for appropriate amounts.

"An employee who handles money should never be bonded for less than the amount of money they're going to be in control of at any given time," he said.

This turned out to be an issue in both Lang's and Fenwick's cases -- both women were bonded for much less than they stole. Gobin has a civil case pending against Fenwick to try to recoup more of the church's losses.

Many people who steal from their employers, Stockton said, justify their thefts with things like a spouse's job loss or a sick relative. They usually have every intention of paying the money back, but the things spiral out of control.

"People become confident as they steal more and more and don't get caught," Stockton said. "The amounts start small, and they always go up. It never flat lines. It only stops when they get caught."

Part of the reason for that, Stockton said, is that when people steal money regularly, those funds become part of the household income.

In August 2009, Melynda J. Fenwick, 38, was discovered to have stolen more than $350,000 from Gobin Memorial United Church, where she served as financial secretary since in 2004.

"It's a source of funds and they've grown accustomed to it," he said. "I've seen where people have actually kept ledgers when they started stealing, but after a while they lose track, and pretty soon there is no way they're ever going to be able to pay it back."

As was the case with Shoemaker and the five Putnam County women who were convicted of embezzling, Stockton said most women who steal from their employers are "pillars of the community, church-going, God-fearing people."

Stockton said he doesn't see an end to embezzlement crimes coming any time soon.

"With the economy the way it is, you're going to see more of this," he said. "People are losing incomes, and they're going to try to sustain the level of lifestyle they're used to."

View 12 comments
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. Please note that those who post comments on this website may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.
  • The article states it covers the last 2 1/2 years of arrests for this type of crime. Leave it at that - because you can't name them all.

    -- Posted by BG-reader on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 9:37 AM
  • Once someone has served their sentence,let them get on with life. Hollywood types are in and out of jail and the public still supports them.

    How many people still follow Martha Stewart, watch

    her show, buy her products?

    -- Posted by Foxridge on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 10:02 AM
  • What on earth does Martha Stewart have to do with anything? A crook's a crook...

    -- Posted by clgruener on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 10:19 AM
  • Let's consider the case of Melynda Fenwick in a hypothetical context. If she embezzled at a constant rate from 2004 to 2009, she could have bought roughly 500 ounces of gold with that $350,000, and buried it somewhere.

    Yesterday, gold hit $1,400 an ounce making those estimated 500 ounces worth $700,000.

    Now then, she received a 10 year sentence, so let's suppose that with good behavior and other "time off" perks, she gets out in 5 years.

    That would amount to roughly $140,000 per year plus "accommodations" at taxpayer expense.

    Again, this is a completely contrived scenario.

    -- Posted by VonMises on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 11:42 AM
  • I say great job for catching these ladies! Hopefully their families don't have to bare the shame of their bad decisions. People make mistakes they deserve to be forgiven but there are consequences for our actions.

    -- Posted by chicagogirl on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 11:52 AM
  • I think the message being delivered here is that; keeping up with the "Jones's" or "Smith's isn't going to get you anywhere accept in jail. My sympathy is with the children of the mothers who did this desperate act.

    -- Posted by Genius on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 6:58 PM
  • Also omitted...

    From July 2008---

    "A Greencastle woman convicted of embezzling thousands of dollars from a former employer over a three-year span received a five-year sentence in Putnam County Circuit Court on Thursday.

    Lesa Hartman, 46, pleaded guilty a Class C felony forgery charge and a Class D felony theft charge on May 22. Under the terms of a plea agreement, five charges each of Class C felony forgery and Class D felony theft against Hartman were dismissed.

    Hartman will spend 18 months of her sentence in jail, six months on home detention with electronic monitoring and three years on probation."

    -- Posted by ProblemTransmission on Wed, Nov 10, 2010, at 12:13 AM
  • I will not hide behind any fake name. I am Lesa Hartman. I have read every single speak out on each of these women including myself. I have googled myself and see that the whole world can read about my crime. Yes, I have paid my dues and will continue to do so FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!!! I make no excuses or put blame on anyone other than myself and I am truly remorseful. When these stories are re-hashed over and over it is not us, the criminal, you are hurting, it is the victims who are trying to move on, the ex-husband's (in my case) that could not live with the shame and embarrassment, it is the children who are trying to overcome the mistakes of their parents. I would love to give my testimony to anyone in hopes that it may reach someone who is struggling or committing similar crimes as mine. If I can get help to just one person then my life will have been worth just of fraction of how God see's it. I have read many comments stating, once a thief, always a thief. All I can say is thank God He see's it a different way. I thank all of you who have stood by me and supported me through these times of difficulty. When I was at rock bottom and didn't want to live anymore, you were there. I do not know what all you nay sayers expect us to do. Are we just suppose to sit around and wait to die? I am working very hard to overcome my past. I have started my life completely over and going to school full time and working where anybody will give me the chance to do so. I want to make people proud so that you all can see that once a thief, always a thief is not the standard. I will tell you this, when I was in prison, every single speaker we ever had and every single prison gaurd and officer always told us, "the only difference between you and me is, you got caught and I didn't" we are all guity of sin. All of you that judge us are sinning just by doing that. You may not be breaking man's law, but you are breaking God's law. He is the one I will answer to and He is my only judge. What happen to ethics? Is your negativity ethically right? Maybe your energy for words could be better spent with encouraging ones. So, please keep in mind the next time you are bashing us who made a mistake and are paying for that mistake, keep in mind that it is our children who are living in our shadows, it is our spouses, and our victims that you are really hurting. I would give anything to change the past but that cannot be done. I can only concentrate on the present and future one day at a time. One more thing, NO ONE can be harder on me than I am on myself!

    -- Posted by lhartman on Wed, Nov 10, 2010, at 11:16 AM
  • Lesa, I will also not hide, this is sheila shoemaker, and thanks so much for everything you have just put here, kudos to you and yours, you just put into words what i have been feeling, my sister just told me last night to ignore all these comments, that noone could beat me up more than i am beating myself up and she is so right, we only need to be judged by one, thanks again to you and all my true friends and my wonderful family and husband who are standing by me!!!

    -- Posted by sshoe71 on Wed, Nov 10, 2010, at 12:22 PM
  • You are most welcome Sheila. You have some difficult days ahead. Do NOT let these comments get you down. I, like you, was very relieved when this all came out. People who judge without knowing every detail of each situation are just as bad as those of us who got caught. I have never done drugs or gambled and I have never been addicted to alcohol but I feel that what I was doing is exactly like having an addiction. No matter how much I wanted to stop and no matter I many times I tried, it was a sickness that I was not able to control at that time. I needed help and sought none from anyone. I lived in fear of losing my marriage and could not seek the help I so very much needed. Anyone who has never been through and addiction or doesn't know anyone who has, just doesn't understand. I put myself in prison through my actions. I was not listening to God. While prison was not at pleasant, and it is not suppose to be, it gave me the time to sit and listen to God. It gave me time to re-evaluate my relationships and choices. I myself have been a victim of various crimes. Most recently, I was robbed in July. I use to be one of those people who judge. Now I just read these stories and ask myself, what kind of pain were they going through? What was their fear? I unfortunately had a husband that felt he could not stay with me once I went to prison. I do not blame him. I put him through hell. I had the support of great parents and a daughter who never missed one visit to see me. You will find out who your true friends and family are through-out all this. I will keep you in my prayers. Just remember you are not alone, and stay strong. God Bless

    -- Posted by lhartman on Wed, Nov 10, 2010, at 3:27 PM
  • Hartman and Shoemaker, You are Both Thieves and ALWAYS be, "Kudos to you and yours"? Are you KIDDING ME? Sounds like your Proud to have stolen from your Employer and Fellow Neighbors in the Community, HONEST Hard working People. How about THAT reality? God MAY Judge you in Heaven, but YOU two are judged by Man here on Earth, so Deal with the FACT that EVERYWHERE you go, Everyone here will know that you ARE a Thief, YOU Did the Crime, thought only of YOUR self gain in doing so, so in return, you now have to deal with the actions of your consequences. Don't hide behind Religion to justify yourself or attempt to vindicate yourself with it by invoking His Name. And as for YOUR Family Suffering? How about the family's YOUR actions of Theft impacted feel? The person who ( in another article deposited cash, NEVER to get it back ) Feel? The Trust of this community in its places of Business is forever changed by you two and the other thieves listed here. Two of them stealing from Churches? TOTALLY Despicable. My Suggestion....Move out of Putnam County if you Don't want to hear it, other wise Deal with it, You Had a Choice,,, Honesty and Integrity or Deception and Lies, you chose the Latter, Except the Consequences..for as long as it takes.

    -- Posted by Afghan Contractor on Sat, Nov 13, 2010, at 10:28 AM
  • I agree with Afghan Contractor, the choices made were bad ones at that; however thats a very good point if you do not like what you hear or see; it would make sense to move out of the county. Go elsewhere and start a new beginning for you and your family or just deal with this path that you have chosen for yourself and your familys.

    -- Posted by Genius on Mon, Nov 15, 2010, at 7:38 PM
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: