A former bookkeeper became the fourth person to be charged Friday in the $15 million Taupa Lithuanian Credit Union fraud case.
Federal prosecutors charged Vytas Apanavicius, 44, of Mentor, an eastern Cleveland suburb, with one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement by stealing nearly $1 million from the Cleveland cooperative. Taupa Lithuanian was shuttered by state and federal regulators last July because of its insolvency.
The multimillion dollar embezzlement scheme occurred over 18 years and involved seven people – CEO Alex R. Spirikaitis, three other employees and three members – making it one of the largest credit union fraud cases ever.
Apanavicius owned VPA Accounting Inc., through which he provided bookkeeping and accounting services from 1995 through 2013. These services included recording month-end journal entries for general ledger accounts, paying and recording monthly expenses and compiling monthly balance sheets and income statements, federal prosecutors said.
Starting in 2001, Apanavicius controlled six accounts at Taupa Lithuanian CU. In his role as an external bookkeeper, he became aware that former Spirikaitis routinely deposited and transferred Taupa funds into member accounts to cover multiple overdrafts.
Apanavicius then withdrew funds from his accounts and did not maintain sufficient balances to cover withdrawals. Spirikaitis deposited and transferred Taupa funds into Apanavicius’ accounts to cover his overdrafts and withdrawals, according to federal prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors also allege Spirikaitis made approximately 72 fraudulent deposits and transfers into Apanavicius’ accounts. He also provided Apanavicius with $25,000 from Taupa Lithuanian accounts to buy a new Jeep Cherokee.
Because of this conspiracy, federal prosecutors allege Apanavicius embezzled $962,689.
The new charge against Apanavicius came just hours after another defendant, member John Struna, pleaded not guilty Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Cleveland to one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement of $2.5 million from the credit union.
In the Struna case, Spirikaitis also made approximately 38 false and fraudulent wire transfers into Struna’s accounts between 2007 and July 15, 2013, just three days before the Ohio Department of Commerce Department of Financial Institutions liquidated the Cleveland cooperative.
In December, former Taupa Lithuanian CU teller Michael Ruksenas pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cleveland to conspiring to embezzle more than $481,000 from the failed credit union.
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.
As part of a plea deal, Ruksenas has agreed to cooperate with and testify for federal prosecutors.
Spirikaitis, 51, who was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit brank fraud on Jan. 15, is in federal custody and is cooperating with federal prosecutors. He is scheduled to be arraigned next month.
The former CEO used some of the $4.2 million he allegedly embezzled to build a $1.6 million home, pay for a luxury suite at Cleveland Browns games, buy nine vehicles and amass an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition he stored at the cooperative’s Cleveland office, according to federal prosecutors.
In addition to Spirikaitis, Ruksenas, Struna, and Apanavicius, federal prosecutors still have three other people to charge who have been identified only by their initials, court documents show.