Taupa Lithuanian Member Pleads Not Guilty to $2.5M Theft
John Struna pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland for allegedly embezzling $2.5 million in a massive fraud case that led to the collapse of the Taupa Lithuanian Credit Union in Cleveland last July.
Earlier this month, federal prosecutors charged Struna, 51, of the Cleveland suburb of Concord Township, with one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement from a credit union.
A total of $15 million had been embezzled over 18 years by seven people – CEO Alex Spirikaitis, three other employees and three members – from the Cleveland cooperative, authorities said, which would make it one of the largest credit union fraud cases ever.
Struna’s trial has been scheduled for March 10. If the case goes to trial, federal prosecutors told U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin they expect to call up to 10 witnesses. Struna was released on a $25,000 personal bond and was ordered to surrender his passport.
Struna, who had personal and business accounts at Taupa Lithuanian CU, conspired with Spirikaitis to overdraw Struna’s accounts by $2.5 million, according to 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 personally 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 Struna’s case, Spirikaitis made approximately 38 false and fraudulent wire transfers into Struna’s accounts between 2007 to July 15, 2013, just three days before the Ohio Department of Commerce Department of Financial Institutions liquidated the Cleveland cooperative.
Over five years, Struna called Spirikaitis twice a month to get his approval to withdraw funds even though he didn’t have sufficient funds in his accounts, authorities said. The former CEO made multiple transfers from Taupa’s internal accounts to cover Struna’s overdrafts, according to court documents.
Federal prosecutors allege Struna used some of the embezzled money to buy a Fort Myers, Fla. condominium for $112,105. And in 2012, Struna received approximately $100,000 for a “silver investment opportunity in South Carolina,” court papers show.
Struna never submitted any credit applications or loan documents to secure these loans and repaid the cooperative only $15,000, federal prosecutors allege.
Federal prosecutors said in December that they expected to charge other people after former 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.
As part of a plea deal, Ruksenas agreed to cooperate with and testify for federal prosecutors.
Ruksenas, 33, conspired with Spirikaitis and “others known or unknown,” according to court documents.
In addition to Ruksenas and Struna, federal prosecutors identified four other people but only by their initials in court documents. The two employees and two members allegedly embezzled a total of $3.3 million, court documents show, though federal prosecutors have not yet pressed charges against these individuals.
Ruksenas, who was the second person to be charged in this fraud case, allegedly conspired with Spirikaitis to steal credit union money for years and up to just one month before the credit union was shut down, 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.