In the last two weeks, two local people admitted they embezzled more than $326,000 collectively from their employers and friends.
Allison Butler Coyle pleaded guilty to six felony charges for theft and forgery. She admitted she stole at least $95,000 from three local businesses while she was working as their bookkeeper.
Henry Kunter was sentenced to eight years in prison after he admitted he stole at least $136,033 from local Rotarians, while he was also stealing at least $87,940.36 from his employer, Crystal River Oil and Gas. After he was caught, Kunter went so far as to file complaints against the gas company with the Colorado Department of Labor and the California Department of Labor, claiming discrimination.
It’s a troubling case for any business owner, but it doesn’t have to happen to you, says John Hall, a CPA and business consultant.
How to avoid it
“Blind trust is always a risky operating policy,” Hall said.
Hall is an author, speaker and results expert who presents around the world at conventions, corporate meetings and association events. He’s headquartered in Edwards and teaches businesses, nonprofit organizations and professional associations his “do what you can” method.
“Do,” he says, is an action verb.
“Owners must be explicit about their expectations. They need to say to people, ‘This is how we conduct business. We trust you, and if you violate that trust, this is what will happen.’ You don’t need to say that in a threatening way, but you need to be clear,” Hall said. “Very, very few small business owners or directors of nonprofits have that conversation.”
He said he sees two common behaviors.
Willful blindness: People won’t see problems and behaviors.
Willful ignorance. They see it, but choose not to do anything about it.
Keeping track of your cash isn’t complicated, it’s just work. In the business world, it’s called internal controls, and Hall said there are a couple pieces to it.
Someone other than the preparer of the checks goes through the checkbook line by line and every line in the bank statement, to make sure they match.
Approval controls. Checks need two signatures.
“There’s no shortcut. You just have to do it,” Hall said. “In small businesses, it’s not rocket science,” Hall said.
Embezzlement revolves around his “three Cs”
Commission of the crime: Someone writing a check or moving money to a phony account.
Conversion: What did the thieves do with the money? “Thieves know how to cash checks,” Hall said. “Any amount, any payee — they know how. It’s honest people who don’t know how to do it.”
Concealment: If businesses spend money, they have to show it as a debit on their books. Embezzlers often make it show up in an income statement or as purchasing a piece of equipment, Hall said. In Kunter’s case, he funneled tens of thousands of dollars to fake companies that he controlled.
Coyle stole the $95,000 between 2007 and 2013 while she was keeping the books for a local hospitality and party equipment rental company, said prosecutors with the District Attorney’s Office working the case.
When the managers and owners of that hospitality company found a discrepancy of thousands of dollars, they hired an accountant to examine their books.
The accountant found that Coyle had stolen around $60,000, transferring the funds from the company’s accounts. She also wrote checks to herself, prosecutors said.
What happens now
District Court Judge Thomas Moorhead will sentence Coyle at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 13. Moorhead said he might consider community corrections, an incarceration program that would allow Coyle to work and repay the money she admits she stole.
Kunter was paid to be treasurer of the Vail Valley Rotary Club. While he was collecting a paycheck to be the club’s treasurer, he stole at least $136,033. At the same time he was also stealing from Crystal River Oil and Gas.
District Court Judge Fred Gannett sentenced Kunter to eight years for stealing money from the oil and gas company and six years for stealing from the Rotary Club.
Kunter will serve his time in community corrections, and will be eligible to work. As part of his sentence, Gannett ordered Kunter to repay the money he stole.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.