Workplace Fraud

The evening newscast featured Tracy Coenen giving her expert opinion on occupational fraud and abuse. A fraud committed by an employee of restaurateur Johnny Vassallo prompted the story, to raise awareness of the issue.

Text Version:

WTMJ Milwaukee – 4 On Your Side
10:00 news, October 8, 2002

Lynise Weeks: You work with them everyday, and you probably think you know your co-workers pretty well. You might want to think again. Chances are, someone you know is stealing from your work. It’s costing you money.When you think about someone stealing from work, you probably see this….someone taking a few bucks from the till.

But when a thief hit Mo’s Market and other downtown Milwaukee restaurants owned by Johnny Vassallo, it wasn’t a few bucks. It was tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s just awful. Just very saddening, especially with as hard as the rest of the employees worked. I’m sad for myself, but as the negativity permeated our entire culture, it was very disheartening.”

Johnny V. found the perpetrator, his former bookkeeper, and pressed charges. Last week a judge sentenced Lisa Hillsley to a year behind bars, where she’ll have company. Ann Wilkerson of Hartland was recently sentenced to eight years at Taycheedah Correctional Institution for ripping off more than $800,000 from her former employer, Shorewest Realty.Those are just two examples of a growing problem.

One survey estimates 6% of revenue is lost to theft each year. That’s billions of dollars.

“The more money they get, the more greedy they get, and the more bold they get. And they sort of start to have this feeling that they’re not going to get caught, and even if they were no one could prove it because they’re so great.” Fraud Examiner Tracy Coenen is an accountant turned detective. When a business owner suspects money is missing, she’s called in to find it.

She calls it a tricky job because modern day thieves tend to use elaborate computer scams and paper pyramids to do their dirty work.

“…find checks that were altered or forged, doing things with expense reports, doing things with trying to verify the validity of vendors…”

So how does this affect you? If your boss is losing money to theft, you can’t expect that nice big raise. And chances are your boss will also start watching everyone more carefully.

“The most important thing to have is to have policies and procedures in place that are checks and balances.”

Security Expert John Power says that means tracking voicemail, e-mail, even individual computer key strokes. “Employees do need to realize that when you work for a company, from a security standpoint, you all are on the same team.”

And when you see someone on your team break the rules, remember, you’re paying for it too. Many companies have a confidential hotline or drop-box where employees can report suspected theft or other problems. If yours doesn’t, check with your human resources department or your supervisor.

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