Taupa Lithuanian CU Teller Pleads Guilty: On-Site Coverage
CLEVELAND — Former teller Michael Ruksenas pleaded guilty Monday in Cleveland’s U.S. District Court to conspiring to embezzle more than $481,000 from the $23.6 million Taupa Lithuanian Credit Union that led to its collapse in July.
As part of a plea deal, Ruksenas has agreed to cooperate with and testify for federal prosecutors who indicated at Monday’s court hearing that more people are expected to face charges in the massive fraud case.
Ruksenas, 33, conspired with the former president/CEO of Taupa Lithuanian CU, Alex Spirikaitis, and “others known or unknown,” according to court documents.
During Ruksenas’ 26-minute hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Patton told U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin that he expects to prosecute six more people who were allegedly involved in the embezzlement conspiracy.
Ruksenas’ sentence hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 28. He could face up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The plea deal also requires Ruksenas to pay restitution of $481,501 to the NCUA.
Ruksenas and Spirikaitis were stealing funds from the credit union for years and up to just one month before state and federal regulators shuttered the credit union, according to court documents.
When Ruksenas started working as a teller at Taupa Lithuanian CU in 1999, Spirikaitis routinely reviewed the daily share draft report. He circled the names of certain members listed on the report with NSF checks and instructed Ruksenas to pay the NSF checks Spirikaitis had circled, court documents show.
After Ruksenas learned Spirikaitis honored overdrafts from certain accounts, Ruksenas began withdrawing funds from his two accounts even though he didn’t maintain sufficient balances to cover the withdrawals. Spirikaitis then transferred funds from Taupa directly into Ruksenas’ personal accounts to cover the overdrafts, according to court documents.
Spirikaitis, who was charged with making false statements about the credit union’s finances in October and is in federal custody, appears to be cooperating with federal prosecutors as well.
The federal grand jury had a Nov. 20 deadline to return an indictment against Spirikaitis. But at the request of Spirikaitis lawyer, Darin Thompson of Cleveland, the deadline was extended to Dec. 20 to give them more time to “fully explore pre-indictment negotiations with the government.”
Court documents have revealed about $10 million to $16 million may have been embezzled from the credit union, which would make it one of the largest fraud cases in credit union history.
Next Page: Home Health Aide/Jeep Cherokee
In addition to his teller position, Ruksenas also worked as a home health aide for one of Spirikaitis’ relatives from 2007 through 2009.
During that time, Spirikaitis fraudulently transferred about $200,000 into Ruksenas’ Taupa accounts. Starting in early 2009, Spirikaitis transferred about $4,000 twice a month in to Ruksenas accounts, according to court documents.
What’s more, Ruksenas requested Spirikaitis increase the amount of monthly transfers from $8,000 to $9,000 a month, so “Ruksenas could show his family members that he was a successful employee,” court records show.
While Spirikaitis obliged Ruksenas’ request for that $1,000 a month increase, Ruksenas told others that the money deposited into his Taupa accounts were legitimate payments from his employer.
Court documents also show Spirikaitis transferred $9,000 to Ruksenas’ account on June 13, exactly one month before state authorities and the NCUA moved in to liquidate the Cleveland credit union on July 13.
Spirikaitis also allegedly used credit union funds to purchase Ruksenas a Jeep Cherokee.
A final forfeiture order also was approved by a federal court judge last month that allows the federal government to sell a million-dollar home built by Spirikaitis in the Cleveland suburb of Solon. Funds from the sale of the home will be distributed to the NCUA, among others.
Federal authorities suspect the house was built with money embezzled from the credit union as Spirikaitis was earning only $50,000 annually, according to court papers.
Court documents also revealed that NCUA authorities discovered 10,000 rounds of ammunition and multiple semi-automatic weapons in the credit union's storage room in July when they seized the institution.
What remains a mystery is why Spirikaitis kept these weapons and ammunition in the credit union. Federal prosecutors and the FBI declined to comment on Spirikaitis' intent.