How $16 Million was Stolen from a Bakery

Is it possible to steal over $16 million from a bakery? Today we see that large sums can be taken from a small, mundane business. And the scheme can be so very simple.

The Theft

Sandy Jenkins, the controller of Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, made off with more than just fruitcakes. He took over $16 million, so says the FBI. And what did Mr. Jenkins do with the money?

He used the funds in the following ways:

  • $11 million on a Black American Express card
  • $1.2 million at Neiman Marcus in Dallas
  • 532 luxury items, including 41 bracelets, 15 pairs of cufflinks, 21 pairs of earrings, 16 furs, 61 handbags, 45 necklaces, 9 sets of pearls, 55 rings, and 98 watches (having an approximate value of $3.5 million)
  • Wine collection (having an approximate value of $50,000)
  • Steinway electronic piano (having a value of $58,500)
  • 223 trips on private jets (primarily Santa Fe, New Mexico; Aspen, Colorado; and Napa, California, among other places), with a total cost that exceeded $3.3 million
  • 38 vehicles, including many Lexus automobiles, a Mercedes Benz, a Bentley, and a Porsche
  • And more…

How the money was stolen

You might think that stealing $16 million would require an elaborate scheme. But did it? 

Here’s an example of his method: Jenkins would print a check to his personal credit card company, but he would void the check in the accounting system. (He still had the printed check.) Then, he would generate a second check for the same amount to a legitimate vendor, but the second check was never mailed. Next, Jenkins would send the first check to his credit card company.

The result: Jenkins’ credit card was paid, but the general ledger reflected a payment to an appropriate vendor.

$16 million stolen from a bakery

The picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

The Weakness

No one was comparing the cleared check payees to the general ledger. 

The Fix

Someone other than those who create checks should reconcile the bank statements to the general ledger. As they do so, they should compare the cleared check payees to the vendor name in the accounting system. Some businesses have hundreds (or even thousands of checks) clearing monthly. Therefore, they may not desire to examine every cleared check. 

Alternatively, the business could periodically sample the cleared checks, comparing the cleared checks to the vendor payments in the general ledger. The persons creating checks should know that this test work will be performed. Doing so creates the camera effect. When people know their actions (in this case, the creation of checks) are to be examined, they act differently–they are much less likely to steal.

If you desire a preventive control, you could require a second-person review of cancelled checks.

Lastly, when segregation of duties is not possible, have the bank statements mailed to someone outside the accounting department such as an owner. That person should review the cleared checks before providing them to the accounting department. Alternatively, provide online access to the reviewing person. The reviewer should examine the cleared checks and provide documentation of his or her examination to the accounting department.

What Happened to Sandy Jenkins?

Sandy Jenkins was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade to serve a total of 120 months in federal prison. His wife, Kay Jenkins also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Ms. Jenkins was sentenced to five years probation.

Hosting Services Impair a CPA’s Independence

Hosting services impair a CPA’s independence, so says the AICPA. And most firms are providing hosting services (though they may not know it). This article explains why your possession of client records, whether electronic or hard-copy, can affect your independence.

Hosting Services Impair a CPA’s Independence

Starting September 1, 2018, your possession of client documents (e.g., tax records) or information (e.g., the housing of QuickBooks files on our server) can, in some instances, create an independence impairment. (If you temporarily possess original documents (e.g., tax records) but return them to the client in a short period, then the possession of the original documents does not impair your independence.)

The AICPA recently adopted a new interpretation, “Hosting Services,” which appears in the Code of Conduct under nonattest services. See 1.295.143 of the Code.

Why would possessing documents or information potentially impair independence? Because you accepted the responsibility for designing, implementing or maintaining internal controls for the records in your possession. And this is considered a management function.

In effect, the AICPA is saying there is an implicit understanding that you (the CPA) will safeguard the client’s records. And to safeguard the information, you agree to create controls to ensure the safety of the information in your possession.

To understand the actions that would impair your independence, see Catherine Allen’s article in the Journal of Accountancy. Specifically, look at her examples of where independence is impaired and where it is not. 

Is Your Cash Receipts Supervisor on the Take?

Day 23 of 30 Days of Fraud

Sometimes the person you hire to prevent theft is the one stealing. This is one of the dangers of a trusted bookkeeper. Below I provide a real-life story of a cash receipts supervisor on the take.

The Theft

Is your cash receipts supervisor taking your cash? I once worked on a case where this person took over $300,000.

Cash receipts supervisor on the take

The picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Cash Receipts Supervisor

Many businesses funnel cash receipts to a supervisor who counts the money from each cash drawer and compares the funds to the daily receipts. The purpose of this step is to ensure no front-desk clerks are stealing.

The cash collections supervisor has usually worked a cash drawer in the past. So she knows all about how the receipts enter the system and how they are deposited.

Typical Deposit Cycle

The collections process often works as follows:

  1. Money is collected at the front cash-collection desks and placed in the cash drawers that are assigned to each clerk; receipts are written for each payment
  2. These clerks tally their collections at the end of each day and reconcile the monies in their cash drawers to the receipts written
  3. The daily reconciliation for each cash drawer goes to the cash receipts supervisor who recounts the funds received and reconciles collections to the receipts written (performing the same reconciliation as the front desk clerks)
  4. The cash receipts supervisor creates a deposit slip for all funds collected (if there are seven cash drawers, then the deposit slip represents the total collections for all seven cash drawers)
  5. The cash receipts supervisor gives the checks and cash and deposit slip to a courier to take to the bank
  6. The courier receives a bank deposit receipt from the bank
  7. The courier provides the bank deposit receipt to the cash receipts supervisor (so she can compare the bank deposit receipt with the copy of the deposit slip–to ensure the courier did not steal any funds in transit)

The Cash Receipts Supervisor Steals

So how can the cash receipts supervisor steal funds in the above scenario?

In the case I worked on, the supervisor also reconciled the bank statement. After step 3., but before step 4., she would steal the cash and then lessen the deposit slip accordingly. So, if she took $2,200, the deposit slip would reflect the total daily collections less $2,200.

You’re thinking, “But then the bank account would not reconcile since the computers have recognized the front-desk collections?” You are correct—unless someone monkeys with the bank reconciliation. And that’s what she did. The supervisor adjusted the reconciling items–on the bank reconciliation–to cover up the stolen funds. The scheme worked until the annual audit.

When the auditors tested the outstanding items on the bank reconciliation, they could not tie substantial amounts to the subsequent bank statement. Generally, outstanding reconciling items clear the subsequent month’s bank statement—but large amounts on the year-end bank reconciliation could not be accounted for (because they were fictitious).

When confronted, the clerk confessed to her theft and method.

The Weakness

The weakness was the cash receipts supervisor who had custody of assets (cash) also performed the reconciliation of the related bank account.

The Fix

The person reconciling the bank statement should not also handle cash. It’s also a good idea to perform surprise tests of the receipting records. Doing so puts everyone on notice. The receipt employees know someone can appear at any time and review their work.

For additional assistance, see my article about how to audit cash.

How to Use the Camera Effect to Kill Fraud

The threat of being seen diminishes theft

You can use the camera effect to kill fraud. Today I tell you what the camera effect is and how you can use it to reduce theft.

People are more prone to steal if they think no one is looking. But the camera effect is a powerful deterrent. So what is it? It’s the positive change that occurs when employees believe their actions are seen.

using the camera effect to kill fraud

43% of fraud detection comes by way of tips. This is why whistleblower programs are the number one way to reduce theft. Time and time again the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ surveys show that whistleblower programs lessen the number of and dollar amount of frauds. Employers provide 1-800 numbers whereby employees can anonymously report potential red flags 24/7. So why would a telephone number reduce fraud?

The camera effect.

Use the Camera Effect to Kill Fraud

We know that when potential fraudsters believe their thefts will be seen, they stay clean. No one wants to go to jail. No one desires to embarrass themselves or their family members.

The key is to introduce the threat of discovery.

This is why whistleblower programs are effective. When in place, such programs make employees feel that others see their actions. For example, if I make $40,000 a year, but I buy an $80,000 vehicle, my fellow employees (at least some) know this is a fraud signal. Now someone can report this signal using the whistleblower program. Think of the whistleblower programs as lots of roving cameras recording and communicating actions in real time. Now employees believe, “If I take, I will be seen.”

When I teach fraud prevention classes, I stand in front of the room and turn a security camera on. It whirls and turns, making class members feel as though they are being recorded. It’s funny; people act differently. They sit up, fix their hair, smile. After the camera rotates a couple of times, I say, “The camera is not hooked up to anything. You are not being recorded.” What did I just do? I made them think they were being taped.

My teaching point: We want employees to believe their actions are visible. The camera effect causes positive actions.

Examples of the Camera Effect

Here are examples of fraud prevention steps that create the camera effect:

  • Someone outside of the accounts payable department randomly selects ten cleared checks each month and reviews the payee, the signature, and the invoice support (let the accounts payable personnel know that this procedure will be performed periodically)
  • Mail the bank statements to someone outside of accounting who opens them and inspects the contents before providing the statements to the accounting department 
  • An outside CPA or CFE performs surprise tests of accounting information twice a year, picking whatever area she desires to inspect (now everyone knows their work is potentially subject to review)

Your Camera Effects

What are you doing to create the camera effect? White-collar crime is a real threat to your organization.

CPA’s Office Setup: A Behind-the-Scenes Spotlight

See my personal office setup

Is a CPA’s office setup important? You bet.

Like you, I am continually looking for ways to be more productive. I buy books, watch videos, and take note of how others work.

I like to see the offices of other CPAs. Here’s mine.

Multiple Monitors

Docking Station – I use a docking station that allows me to push one button to disconnect and place my laptop into a bag for travel. The docking station provides connectivity inputs behind my computer. Rather than disconnecting several wires to “set my computer free,” I push one button.

Multiple Monitors – I use multiple monitors. See how to review financial statements on computer screens.

50″ Monitor (on a swivel hinge) – This monitor is about two feet behind my desk. I use this screen as a fourth working monitor. For example, when I am reviewing financial statements, I sometimes place the balance sheet on the 50″ screen and a second copy of the financial statements on my lower center monitor. Then as I review the remainder of the statements (e.g., notes), I can glance at the balance sheet.

The 50″ monitor hangs from a swivel hinge. The swivel hinge allows me to tilt the screen in other directions when I am sharing information from my laptop with others in my office. We also use the monitor to watch webcasts. 

Todoist Checklist – I place all my outstanding to-do items in Todoist. Since Todoist integrates with Outlook, I usually have Outlook docked on the 50″ monitor. With just a glance, I can quickly see what I need to complete. With one click, I can add a new to-do item. And the to-do items I add on my laptop show up on my iPad and iPhone Todoist apps (and vice versa)–this integration is why I started using Todoist.

Logitech Camera – I often have online meetings and share information on my computer screen with those I am speaking with (I use Zoom). This Logitech camera creates an excellent picture and sound so those I’m sharing with can see and hear meLogitech C930e 960-000971 USB 2.0 1920 x 1080 Video Webcam

Bose Bluetooth Speaker – Music can make us more productive. And why not have quality sound? You spend such much of your waking day in your office. Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II (Carbon)

iPhone on a Stand – Do you ever lay your phone down and later you can’t find it? (We used just to lose our keys, now it’s the phone and the keys.) This stand provides me with a consistent place for my phone. elago M2 Stand for all iphones, Galaxy and Smartphones (Angled Support for FaceTime), Black

printer shot

Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner – When I receive physical paper documents, my usual first step is to scan the paper and place it (the paper) in my shred box. I use this scanner several times a day. I like the scanner (but I have had problems with paper jams). Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005)

Deluxe Shred Box – My deluxe shred box is a box top. I know, sophisticated, huh?

Landline Phone – I keep my phone over on my side table to keep it off my main desktop.

HP Printer – Many CPAs use a central printer for several people but think about the cumulative time you waste walking to the printer. HP LaserJet P2035 Monochrome Printer (CE461A#ABA)

CPA's Office Setup

iPad – This is my favorite device. I use it mainly outside the office, but I place it on the corner of my desk, so I can quickly pick it up as I go out.

The Physical Library – I order most publications electronically, but for my physical books, I keep them handy here.

Adjustable Standup Desk – In my attempt to be a (little) more healthy, I bought this standup desk about three years ago. About once a day, I will print and stand while I review a set of financial statements–mainly to get my rear out of the chair. There has been a great deal of press lately about professionals (slowly) killing themselves by sitting too much. This desk does adjust down to the level of my main desktop, and it is mobile, so I use it–when I’m tired of standing–as an extension of my main desktop.

Paper-in Tray – I use a three-level tray for my incoming paper. The top shelf is for newly arrived paper information.

conference space

Corner Meeting Spot –  I use this corner area as a place to meet with partners and staff, especially if they bring paper copies in to discuss.

Coffee Maker – This is probably the most important appliance in my office. No coffee, no Charles.

whiteboard

Whiteboard – If someone needs to draw an idea out, here’s the place. I sometimes take iPhone pictures of the information drawn on the board and then store it in Evernote.

Watercooler – Drinking plenty of water each day will enhance your stamina. You want to create energy that sustains you.

See what’s on my computer desktop for software ideas.

Your Ideas

How would you change my office? What additional ideas would you add to these?

Providing Fraud Prevention Services to Compilation Clients

Could it be that fraud prevention assistance is more beneficial than a compilation engagement?

This post discusses providing fraud prevention services to compilation clients.

providing fraud prevention services to compilation clients

How many clients do you provide compilation services to? For most small- to medium-sized CPA firms, the answer is plenty. Now let me ask you another question.

The Greater Risk for Your Client

What is the greater risk for your client?

  • Financial statements are misstated or
  • A trusted bookkeeper (or someone else) is stealing substantial sums of money from the business

You say, “But I’m not engaged to look for potential theft or prevent it.” Regarding compilation engagements, you are right. Notice, however, my question is about your client.

I find that most compiled financial statements are basically correct—often because of the CPA’s involvement. The risk of material misstatement is driven down, and obviously, this is a good thing, but what about the potential for theft?

It seems to me that CPAs seldom talk with their compilation clients about the potential of fraud, even though we know, for instance, that the client’s accounting staff consists of one bookkeeper. So, we are aware that the client’s accounting system lacks segregation of duties.

When fraud happens, clients will sometimes say, “my CPA is responsible”—even though compilations are not designed to prevent (or detect) fraud. Therefore, we must clearly define the services we are providing.

Defining Your Compilation Service

Here are two questions to consider in defining your compilation engagements.

  1. Do you get signed compilation engagement letters?
  2. Do you verbally explain the limits of your engagements (that you are not providing fraud prevention or detection services)?

These two actions lessen your risk when you provide only compilation services.

If you desire to provide fraud prevention services, then use a separate engagement letter to cover that work.

Providing Fraud Prevention Services to Compilation Clients

Do you ever suggest to your client that he or she have you (or someone else trained in fraud prevention) review the accounting system and make fraud prevention suggestions? Here is where I believe you can add value to the compilation service. I also believe it is largely an untapped source of revenue for small- to medium-sized CPA firms.

If you provide fraud prevention services, you need to create an engagement letter that addresses the boundaries of your work. It is wise to say what you are providing and, more importantly, what you are not providing.

I normally state that I am providing the additional fraud prevention service to mitigate fraud risk and that the additional work does not provide absolute assurance. I go on to say that once the work is complete, “that fraud can still occur.” (Check with your insurance carrier for appropriate language.)

In other words, your engagement is to lessen fraud risk, not to eliminate it, a reasonable proposition. (The risk of fraud can seldom, if ever, be fully eliminated. And I tell my clients this.)

Fraud Prevention Services Create Risk

But doesn’t providing fraud prevention services create additional risks for the CPA?

Yes.

Providing any additional service creates risk for the CPA. So this is ultimately a business decision for you and your firm. 

If you desire to provide fraud prevention services, consider becoming a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) or obtain your Certified in Financial Forensics Credential. I became a CFE in 2004 and found the training eye-opening. Though I had been a CPA since 1987, I gained valuable knowledge about system design and fraud prevention.

Independence

Will providing fraud prevention services impair your independence? Under existing AICPA independence standards, the answer could be yes (because you are assisting with the design of the internal control system). But the independence issue depends on what you do. Making recommendations probably would not impair independence. Fully designing the internal control structure would impair independence.

If your independence is impaired, you need to say so in the compilation report.

Agree or Disagree?

What do you think about offering fraud prevention services to compilation clients?

You can learn more about white-collar crime here.

Do You Need to Verify that Someone is a CPA?

Do you need to verify that someone is a CPA?

If yes, click here for CPAVerify.org.

Their website says:

Free and open to the public, CPAverify.org is a CPA lookup tool populated by official state regulatory data sent from Boards of Accountancy to a central database. The website represents the first ever single-source national database of licensed CPAs and CPA firms. Determine a CPA or CPA firm’s credentials without having to search each of the 55 Boards of Accountancy website individually.

Four Keys to Better Client Interviews

You can understand your clients

Many times I have interviewed accounting staff and walked away thinking, “I have no idea what they just said to me.” Do you ever have this problem? If yes, this article is for you. Below I provide four keys to better client interviews.

Better client interviews

In my early years–fresh out of college–I would think: “I must be stupid. It’s obvious, he understands what he just said, but I don’t.” Often my anxiety would increase when I realized the interviewee (e.g, accounts payable clerk) had no college degree (and me, a masters in accounting).

Reasons We Don’t Understand

After years of performing interviews, I realized that I wasn’t dense (at least, not as much as I thought), and that I was encountering what The Art of Explanation calls, the “curse of knowledge.”

What is the “curse of knowledge?” It’s when someone knows a subject very well, and, consequently, has a difficult time imagining what it is like to not know it. I was experiencing the “curse of knowledge.” Those I interviewed thought knew what they knew. As a result, they left out details.

Also, those I interviewed had years of experience doing the same job day after day. Of course they understood what they did. But I had less than an hour, in many cases, to grasp their duties.

Additionally, those I interviewed used a language unique to their office, and I, mistakenly, tried to use a different language—one I had learned in college. The result: we did not understand one another. So how can I communicate and comprehend better?

Four Keys to Interviewing

1. Pay attention to their language and use it.

If they call it a thingy, then I call it a thingy.

2. Seek understanding more than trying to impress.

I often want to impress more than I desire to understand. The remedy: Admit (maybe even out loud) I don’t know everything.

I tell the clerk, “Treat me like I don’t know anything. I’ve never been here, so I need your help in understanding what you do.”

To higher level personnel (e.g., CFO), I might say, “I have worked in this industry for fifteen years, but I need your help to understand how you guys operate.”

3. Repeat what is said to you.

For example, “May I repeat what you just said to make sure I understand? ‘The thingy is created once per week on Mondays to ensure that total receipts agree with deposits.’”

4. Use your cell phone to take pictures and to record parts of the interview.

Just last week, I reviewed a complex accounting system (for about three hours). As I did so, I used my cell phone Evernote app to take pictures of computer screens and printed reports. I also used the app to record parts of the conversation. Later, I summarized the conversation in memo form (complete with pictures).

Scanbot is another useful iPhone app if you take pictures of client information. By using your phone to take pictures, you can leave your physical scanner in your office.

Your Interviewing Ideas

Have I left out any key interviewing ideas? Please share your thoughts.

Check out my series of articles about auditing.

Would Andy Griffith Steal? Receipt Fraud in Law Enforcement

Day 22 of 30 Days of Fraud

Would Andy Griffith steal? Maybe not. But other law officers do. Thankfully, most don’t.

The Theft

If you’ve watched Andy Griffith as much as I have, you may find it hard to believe a (small town) officer would steal–but it happens.

Andy Griffith steal

A friend of mine (we’ll call him John) audits a small Georgia city (this is a true story). One year he was reviewing the planning analytics for the audit, reviewing five years of comparative data. In scanning the comparisons, he noticed the police fines had fallen off significantly. So John asked the police chief why the fines were down.

The police chief (we’ll call him Robert) responded, “I took it.”

John laughed and said, “I’m serious, why do you think the fine revenue dropped?”

“I said I took it.”

John was stunned. It was hard for him to absorb what he was hearing. After all, fraudsters don’t generally confess on the spot–but this one did. And the chief was well-known and well-liked, a man known for his integrity.

The discussion continued as John inquired about how the chief took the money. Here’s the deal.

Robert had two receipt books, one for cash and one for checks. When checks were received, he would write a receipt from the checks receipt book–those funds were turned over to the city clerk. When cash was received, he wrote receipts from the cash receipts book–those monies went into his pocket. Simple, but effective, as he stole over $50,000.

The Weakness

So, what control weakness allowed this theft?

No one was controlling the issuance of the city receipt books. Also, the city clerk should have noticed the lack of cash payments being received for fines.

The Fix

How can we remedy this problem?

When governments use physical receipt books, assign the duty of purchasing and issuing receipt books to a particular person. He or she should maintain a log of the receipt books and who has each one.

Surprise audits of those receiving funds is another way to combat theft. These reviews can be performed by the government’s internal audit staff or by an outside CPA or Certified Fraud Examiner.

White-collar crime is real, so stay vigilant. (Even so, I still can’t believe the real Andy Griffith would steal.)

Stealing Unaccrued Receivable Checks is Easy

Day 21 of 30 Days of Fraud

Stealing Unaccrued Receivable Checks

Some fraudsters steal unaccrued receivable checks and convert them to cash. In this article, I explain the mechanics of the theft and how you can prevent it.

The Theft

Susan is an hospital executive that has the authority to approve purchases of medical devices. She commonly receives rebate checks from vendors. Since she negotiates the purchase contracts, the vendors mail the rebate checks to her. Some of these checks are north of $50,000.

A while back she received a rebate check and placed it in her top left-hand drawer, thinking she would take it to accounting the next day. But she forgot.

stealing unaccrued receivable checks

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

A month later she opened her drawer, and there it was. Oops! She hurriedly took the check to the receipting department and said, “Gosh, I must be losing my mind.” They all laughed, knowing it was an innocent mistake. But in the course of these events, she realized that no one knew she had the check. Why would they? Susan approves the purchases, and she provides the rebate information to no one. So, the rebates are not accrued in the general ledger.

Not long thereafter, Susan decides to retain two of the rebate checks totaling over $100,000. She places them in the same left-hand drawer, but this time, she does so on purpose. And then she waits—several weeks. No one calls about the checks. It’s obvious that no one knows she has them.

Susan converts the checks to cash by depositing them into a new bank account that she has opened in the name of the hospital. She is the sole authorized signer for the new bank account.

Now, let’s see what the control weaknesses are and how we can remedy this problem. 

The Weakness

The weakness is that no one is tracking or accruing the rebate checks.

The Fix

How can we cure this weakness?

Determine what companies provide rebates checks (and any other checks commonly received and not accrued). Send confirmations to the paying parties and compare the confirmed amounts with activity in the general ledger.

A master list of rebate companies should be maintained by someone in accounting, and the related activity should be monitored by comparing receipting information to this list. When possible, accrue rebate receivables.

White-Collar Crime

This is one more example of white-collar crime. Click here for many more articles about theft. For a detailed article about auditing receivables, click here.