The Knuckleheads of the Day award
Today's winner is WorkForce One(The Broward County labor agency) and its Vice President of Finance, Katie Ocken. They get the award for the following.
Alone in the office at night, she wrote check after check to herself from the Broward County labor agency, court records show.A great question Judge Gold. My answer- A Knucklehead of the Day! WorkForce One's story of incompetence sounds eerily similar to this one from Palm Beach County.
Her superiors and colleagues were unaware that Brenda Felder, 41, was already a felon -- convicted of grand theft, one of the charges the former accounts payable clerk now faces as she is accused of stealing more than $2 million.
Workforce One's $24 million annual budget comes mainly from local and state government funding. But it wasn't the labor agency's accountants, financial department, outside auditors or even Felder's supervisors who uncovered the scheme, which went on for four years. It was an alert teller at a Davie credit union who finally noticed.
Judge Marc Gold wondered last month, when a subdued but visibly nervous Felder appeared before him in Circuit Court during a bond hearing:
``What business loses $2.4 million and doesn't catch it?''
It may have started almost 12 years ago, when Felder checked ''no'' in the box on her job application asking whether she had ever been convicted of a serious offense. In fact, three times a decade before, Felder, then known by her maiden name of Roundtree, pleaded guilty to felonies related to theft, according to Broward County court records from 1985 to 1987. Adjudication was withheld once. Twice, she was convicted.
In the last of those three cases, she pleaded guilty to a first-degree felony charge of grand theft of $100,000 or more. She was sentenced to two years of probation.
But when Felder applied for the job in 1994, the labor agency wasn't doing background checks on employees, so her convictions went undetected.
Within a year of her hiring, Felder became the accounts payable clerk, responsible for paying vendors and maintaining the books on such payments.
Convicted felons put in charge of taxpayer money. Don't you just love Florida?
And who is supposed to supervise the accountants Ms. Ocken. You're a incompetent bureaucrat who should be fired immediately. That may or may not happen but you're one of today's Knuckleheads of the Day. Put that on your resume when looking for your next job.
In 2002, prosecutors allege, Felder wrote the first check to herself.
It continued for four years, they allege, with Felder routinely making out checks to herself from the labor agency, sometimes as often as three or four times a month. Usually the checks were for about $17,000, but they ranged from $12,000 to nearly $20,000. She deposited the checks into the same credit-union account where she received her paychecks, according to the court records.
Prosecutors believe that Felder, who has since been charged with three counts of grand theft, money laundering and fraud, wrote at least 119 checks to herself from the labor agency.
Alone in the office at night, she made out the checks, using the agency's automatic check signature machine to authenticate them, and the checks were coded into the agency's computer system under a phony vendor name, according to the court records.
The agency's vice president of finance, Katie Ocken, told police it went unnoticed because staff accountants did not look at the canceled checks when reconciling the bank statements.
This story gets better.
Felder certainly was productive in her after work hours.
In her most recent evaluation, she was given a score of 94.5.
''Brenda performs her duties with a high standard of quality,'' her supervisor, Steve Gordon, wrote in that evaluation last year.
Gordon wrote in 2002, the first year in which checks were cashed: ``Her work very rarely contains any mistakes or oversights. . . . She has demonstrated a willingness to work after scheduled hours to get her work completed.''
Who did catch Ms. Felder's thievery? A Credit Union employee of course.
Brilliant! It was the bank that discovered both the fraud of Ms. Felder and her criminal background.
This fall, bank tellers in the area were on alert because of a rash of robberies by armed gangs at financial institutions throughout South Florida.
In September, BrightStar teller Laura Martell became suspicious of Felder's husband.
According to testimony taken by police, Brenda Felder would deposit large checks from the labor agency -- some for almost $20,000 each -- into a personal account at the credit union's Lauderhill branch. Her husband, Vincent Felder, would then withdraw money from BrightStar's Davie branch. He has not been charged in this investigation.
The most recent check was dated 15 days before Brenda Felder was arrested.
''It was like she was getting an annual salary monthly,'' one of the teller's supervisors, Julie Reinoso, told the Lauderhill Police Department, according to legal depositions.
Felder's salary last year was $31,725.
According to property records, Felder and her husband own a house in Plantation. They also own or lease several cars, including an Infiniti and a Ford Explorer, she said in court. The two also own Nu-Berry Property Management; Vincent Felder is president and Brenda Felder is vice president.
On Sept. 28, the suspicious teller's branch manager contacted Reinoso, the bank's compliance officer. Together, they looked online and saw that Felder was an accounts payable clerk.
''We knew right away it was fraudulent,'' Reinoso told the police. After she called Workforce One to determine the validity of the checks, the bank staff went online and found out about Felder's criminal past, Reinoso said.
Workforce One's CEO, Jackson, and the agency's board members were quickly informed, as were the Lauderhill police, who were soon gathering evidence at Workforce One headquarters in Lauderhill. That afternoon, Felder was nervous, pacing the hallways and asking co-workers why investigators were there, police records show.
Within hours, she was arrested.
I'd immediately give the Bank Manager Ms. Ocken's job and the bank teller the position held by Felder. TFM guesses that probably won't happen, but I'll do this. WorkForce One and its Vice President of Finance, Katie Ocken you are today's Knuckleheads of the Day.
Hat tip- Alex at SOTP
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