Guilty Taupa Teller's Dad Was Board Chairman
CLEVELAND – Former Taupa Lithuanian Credit Union Teller Michael Ruksenas, who embezzled more than $480,000 from the failed credit union, had a connection with the institution beyond his job: his father, who served on the board.
The 33-year-old Ruksenas, who was the first to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement in December, was sentenced to 17 months in federal prison in Cleveland’s U.S. District Court on Friday.
Judge James S. Gwin also sentenced Ruksenas to three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay restitution of $481,501 to the NCUA.
Gwin received 10 reference letters from Ruksenas’ friends and family, including his parents, Algis and Nijole Ruksenas. Algis Ruksenas served as president of the $23 million Taupa Lithuanian CU board in 2009, 2010 and 2011, which was verified by the credit union’s IRS 990 forms.
“His involvement came as a shock to us, because it was completely at variance with his character and upbringing,” Algis and Nijole Ruksenas wrote.
The day after former Taupa Lithuanian President/CEO Alex R. Spirikaitis eluded the FBI on July 16, Ruksenas called his lawyer and asked him to contact federal prosecutors so that he could divulge everything he knew.
According to court documents, his family believed for years that he was making a good living, rather than stealing from the credit union. He even paid taxes on the stolen funds.
"Eventually, Mr. Ruksenas became overcome with guilt and fear because of the lie he was living,” wrote his lawyer, Richard J. Perez, in a sentencing memorandum. “He felt great relief when he came forward with the truth.”
Ruksenas and Spirikaitis were stealing funds from the credit union for years, up to just one month before state and federal regulators shuttered the credit union in July 2013, according to court documents.
Spirikaitis, who embezzled $4.2 million from the Cleveland credit union, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud on Feb. 3 and will be sentenced May 9.
When Ruksenas started working as a teller at Taupa Lithuanian in 1999, Spirikaitis routinely reviewed the daily share draft report. He circled the names of certain members listed on the report and instructed Ruksenas to pay their overdrawn checks, court documents show.
After Ruksenas learned Spirikaitis covered overdrafts from certain accounts, he began withdrawing funds from his two accounts, even though he didn’t maintain sufficient balances to cover the transactions. Spirikaitis then transferred funds from Taupa directly into Ruksenas’ personal accounts to cover the overdrafts, according to court documents.
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 used credit union funds to purchase Ruksenas a Jeep Cherokee.
The embezzlement conspiracy also involved five other individuals, two of whom have been charged by federal prosecutors.
The former credit union’s bookkeeper Vytas Apanavicius also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit embezzlement in February and will be sentenced May 9. He admitted to stealing nearly a million dollars.
John Struna, 51, a former business owner who lives in the affluent Cleveland suburb Concord Township, pleaded not guilty in January for allegedly embezzling $2.5 million from the credit union. He’s been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement from a credit union.
Though Struna pleaded not guilty, recently filed court documents revealed that he agreed to plead guilty in August but reneged on the plea deal with federal prosecutors the day before his arraignment on Jan. 24.
Three more people are expected to face charges. Those individuals have been identified in court documents only by their initials.
A.B., a defendant identified in court documents only by initials, was a full-time employee at Taupa Lithuanian CU from 1991 to 2004 and worked part-time at the credit union from 2004 to July 2013. Two other suspected participants in the fraud ring, G.C. and P.B., were members and provided IT services to the cooperative from a company they jointly owned, show court documents.