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Embezzlement becoming a trend?

Published: Jan. 24, 2012 at 10:32 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2012 at 2:40 PM CST
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LAWTON, Okla. – A Lawton woman who was trusted to manage the office of a Lawton animal hospital is now accused of stealing over $120,000 from it.

Investigators say Tammy Lou Daniels stole the money while working as the office manager for the Beavers Animal Hospital from July 2003 to December 2010.  The owner told investigators she noticed money was missing when she noticed several discrepancies in Daniels' paperwork.

This case is one of several involving embezzlement in Comanche County recently, and 7News wanted to find out what may be behind this trend.

Last week, Angela McGee was convicted of stealing over $14,000 from the Cedar Crest Nursing Center in Lawton.  Back in November, Lisa Cowan was charged with stealing $345,000 from Goodyear.

7News noticed what seemed like a few trends with these embezzlement cases, so we spoke with Comanche County Assistant District Attorney John Fleur to see if he saw it, too.  Fleur says when it comes to embezzlement, the reasons behind it vary

"I don't know if it's a matter of, 'I need a few dollars now,' or 'I am going to go to the casino this weekend and I'll bring it back this week.' That doesn't happen and it starts to grow from there," said Fleur.

And the amounts vary too.  Fleur says he has seen cases with amounts ranging from $5,000 to $400,000.

"It depends on the merchant or the business.  And it depends upon the individual, how long they've been able to get away with the embezzlement," said Fleur.

Fleur says what does seem to be a trend is the number of cases where the embezzler is a woman.

"That doesn't mean that there aren't men that do this.  But it seems that there has been a lot of women that are in the position of office manager, payroll manager, some sort of position where they have been trusted with the money."

Fleur says, in many of these cases, the embezzler can work out a deal with the state to pay the money back instead of going to prison.

"Since this seems to be a female-type of charge quite often, maybe the restitution helps keep them out of jail and helps our prison system in that effect."

Fleur stresses that a business owner can never predict who will steal from them.  And he has seen all types of embezzlers, but one way to prevent this from happening is regular audits.

"Trust and verify.  I think you need to almost be suspicious of your employees and verify what they're doing.  At the same time you have to rely on people to do their jobs."

Fleur says one of the challenges of prosecuting embezzlement cases is keeping the jury interested.  He says each transaction must be explained which is a lot of paperwork.

Fleur says the recommended jail time for embezzlement varies depending on the amount taken.  It is usually less than a year in jail for taking $1,000 or less.  But, when it goes over $1,000 the minimum sentence jumps to five years.