Credit Unions Lose $66 Million in Embezzlements
The largest credit union fraud cases of 2016 convicted two CEOs, a CFO, a bookkeeper, a business relationship manager, and an assistant manager who collectively stole more than $66 million from their credit unions. And they got away with it for years before their fraudulent schemes were finally uncovered.
In last year's biggest embezzlement case, the $1 billion Scott Credit Union in Edwardsville, Ill., suffered $25.8 million in criminal and civil losses because of the criminal action taken by Theodore J. Longust, a former business relationship manager, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November.
For six years, Longust falsified reports, created unauthorized loans, loan advances, and concealed his fraud by falsifying reports, misstating loan balances, omitting loan amounts and underreporting loans.
Just five days after 2016's New Year's Day, Michael Anthony LaJoice, walked into the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and confessed that he stole about $18 million while he worked as the CFO for the $68 million Clarkston Brandon Community Credit Union in Clarkston, Mich.
One week later, the credit union was placed into conservatorship by state regulators and was later merged into the $3.2 billion Michigan State University Federal Credit Union in East Lansing.
For more than 12 years, he siphoned funds making ACH withdrawals from the credit union to his personal accounts held at other financial institutions and then covered it up by falsified the credit union's ledger and other documents. He also issued unauthorized cashier's checks from member accounts, and created fake investments.
He used the stolen funds to buy a $1.3 million, 5,800-square-foot house. According to police, LaJoice renovated the house installing a nine-seat movie theater, three sets of washers and dryers and other top-of-the-line appliances. He also purchased commercial properties to develop a proposed retail and residential project and owned a dance studio.
LaJoice, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud, is scheduled to be sentenced by a federal judge in March.
In September, Maria Guadalupe Hernandez, former president/CEO of the shuttered $5 million El Paso Federal Credit Union was sentenced to 15 and a half years and Hilda Simental Mendoza, the former assistant manager for EPFCU, was sentenced to 10 years.
They ran an $18 million Ponzi scheme out of the credit union over five years by selling non-member share certificates to at least 10 credit unions across the nation. To cover the dividends and principal balances of the previously sold share certificates, they sold new non-member share certificates, a Ponzi scheme that led to the insolvency of the credit union in 2012.
Hernandez spent the stolen funds on real estate, vehicles, gambling, vacations and mortgage payments. Mendoza's lawyer said there was no evidence that his client received any funds or anything of value from the embezzlement scheme.
Since the time she was hired as a bookkeeper at the $2 million SCICAP Credit Union in 1978, Linda Lee Clark began stealing from the cooperative in the small rural town of Chariton, Iowa.
By the time her theft finally surfaced in August 2015, she embezzled more than $2.4 million over 37 years.
Federal prosecutors in court documents said Clark managed to conceal her theft for more than three decades by maintaining two sets of accounting records on the credit union's data processing system. Clark also refused to allow other credit union employees, including SCICAP President/CEO Connie Banks and others, to access the system. How did Clark keep employees from accessing the data processing system for nearly four decades? In an unusual response, her lawyer said his client just told them “no.”
According to court records, Clark used the stolen funds to for family vacations, and to pay for thousands of items she bought daily at numerous stores in Central Iowa and online.
The 67-year-old grandmother pleaded guilty to embezzlement. In November, she was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
Fuataina Afutiti, the former president/CEO, of the Veterans Health Administration Credit Union, was sentenced in December to two and half years to up to 20 years in state prison for stealing nearly $2 million from the Detroit-based credit union that had $2 million in assets.
Her embezzlement led to the cooperative's closure after regulators uncovered irregularities and cash shortfalls. With the stolen funds from 2012 to 2016, she leased or bought several cars, including a 2013 Mercedes Benz, and a motorhome. Afutiti also used the credit union's money to pay for vacations.