Saturday, February 25, 2012

Embezzler of $57,000 to answer for $30,000 less

Darlene J. Nobles, proprietor, Sign of the Times

Court offers 10 years probation, $18,000 pay-back

“What does the judge benefit in gifting $30,000 at my expense?”

Waco – A 2008 startup, Sign of the Times struggled at first, then got enough of a client base that the resulting cash flow crunch forced a reliance on credit cards to meet expenses.

As the company established reliable cash flow, the credit cards went into a lock box one by one, until there was no further need for them.

And then Darlene J. Nobles hired Stephanie Wyatt. After embezzlement of at least $57,000, a $10,000 IRS levy for penalties and interest, and a lot of service charges from card services companies, she and her husband are afraid to even speculate how much the entire affair cost them.

It took three years to get the Waco Police Department to file the charges, more time to obtain an indictment, and then the phone rang one day last week.

It was a prosecutor – an Assistant District Attorney – calling to let her know the charges had been plead down, the amount the woman admitted to stealing is now $18,000, and she's going to be sentenced to restitution of that amount, 10 years probation, and deferred adjudication. When she completes the sentence, there will be record of a felony conviction.

Darlene Nobles recalls how the women who work for her were patient, accepting long hours and low pay as the small company got off the ground. There were “girls' days out” for manicures and massages, long lunches, and drinks.

As the outfit grew, Mrs. Nobles decided to let her daughter take over the bookkeeping duties. She intended to move Stephanie Wyatt into another position - with even greater responsibilities before she discovered that the banks and card services companies were dunning her for $57,000 in credit slips for trips to Texas Motor Speedway, pairs of boots for Ms. Wyatt's male friends, expensive lunches and weekend trips. What's more, certain clients had been incorrectly billed; they had not been charged nearly what the company was due to receive.

Something was wrong. Dead wrong.

Because she was working full time to help her ailing mother receive proper care, Mrs. Nobles had never known about the charges. The bookkeeper had intercepted the mail and paid the minimum payments, keeping her forgeries a secret.

The resulting headaches cost the good will of clients and in at least one case, the loss of the business of that customer. The Nobles have instituted rigorous accounting and auditing procedures.

Monday morning, Stephanie Wyatt will be sentenced to a 10 year term of probation for the embezzlement of $18,000 – not the true figure of $57,000 for which she was indicted. She will be allowed to pay restitution at a rate as low as $100 per month, Mrs. Nobles was told.

Like many crime victims in Texas, Darlene Nobles wants to know why a predatory criminal has been allowed to plead guilty to doing something that did not, in fact, really happen, and is being allowed to go her way with only a light punishment.

“She's walking away with a $100 slap on the wrist. She's walking away with no felony,” Mrs. Nobles told The Legendary.

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