Manager's Desk: Shop owner deals with theft

September 1, 2017 11:03 am

By Keith Jennings

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I never experienced being sad and mad at the same time until recently. The cause was a trusted employee who wasn’t so trustworthy after all.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from our shop’s bookkeeper inquiring about several company checks written on a seldom-used bank account. She had received a bank statement in the mail and realized the account had an abnormally small balance. She assumed I had written the checks and forgotten to mention them. When I confirmed otherwise, her tone quickly changed to one of concern.

She immediately contacted the bank and requested details and images of the cashed checks. Unfortunately, this led to the discovery that our maintenance technician had stolen checks issued by two banks from the bookkeeper’s office and proceeded to cash checks worth thousands of dollars by forging my signature. We were stunned to say the least.

A logical question would be, “How can a maintenance technician steal checks from the front office?”

To summarize, a longtime family friend is the widow of a machinist who worked for our company. We hired her to clean our offices, which she’s done for many years. She’s very thorough, ensuring that work spaces are clean and well-maintained. She is also tough and doesn’t tolerate shop employees trashing the restrooms, and they comply.

But she also takes a 6-week leave of absence each summer to visit her hometown in Europe. While she’s out, we don’t replace her. The rest of us clean our own work spaces, though, perhaps not quite to her standards.

This year, however, we asked our maintenance technician to clean in her absence, including the front offices. We eventually found he had seen our bookkeeper remove checks from a cabinet and stolen some under the guise of “cleaning.”

Several weeks passed before we discovered what had happened. The discovery came the day after he went to lunch and never returned. Apparently, he knew that time was running out. Once we were aware of the theft, we immediately terminated him and filed charges.

My emotional reactions ranged from sad and mad to disappointed and livid—and everything between, all at the same time.

We filed fraud reports at both banks and reported all his actions to the police, who investigated. We also discovered he had swiped and pawned tools, lawn equipment and scrap. He was very discreet and able to pilfer without being noticed. The authorities recovered a few of these items but not all.

The police arrested him and will likely charge him with a couple of felonies. Hopefully, he will be held accountable for his actions.

Theft and security are issues for every shop, but this was our first experience with stolen checks. We learned important lessons.

We had become too complacent with our employee and offered too much information and access to the facility. We subsequently changed all door and alarm codes, but because we had failed to log his gate opener, we had to issue new ones. Fortunately, the banks refunded our stolen money.

As an owner or manager, know exactly what’s been issued to employees, keep records of their codes and keys, carefully review receipts, and maintain tight control of your offices and facility. Too much trust and complacency can lead to an avoidable incident.


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