Top 5 White Collar Villains: Wendy Gaskins Charged With Embezzling $300K From DMV

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Politicians argue transferring money and authority to the states from the federal government will result in less waste and chicanery, but it only seems to reduce scrutiny and spread the opportunity around. Case in point, Wendy Gaskins, one of two South Carolina DMV employees charged with embezzling, highlighting this week’s Top 5 White Collar Villains

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5. Michael Sohn

The great thing about greed versus almost anything else in life is that there’s an unlimited supply. Selfish shit Michael Sohn had a cushy $100 grand/year job as former Republican House member Christopher Shays’ campaign manager. But he wanted more. So from 2005 to 2008 he stole more than $250,000 from campaign coffers to pay for Red Sox tickets, gambling at Foxwoods casino, limousine rides, donations to his synagogue, a $13000 engagement ring for his fiancee, and a $877 dinner at a Washington D.C. steakhouse.

Not only did the 34-year old’s exploits possibly contribute to Shay’s 2008 loss to former Goldman Sachs investment banker, Jim Himes, and cost his staff their jobs, but since he neglected to enter several employees into the payroll system, they’ve since run into problems with the I.R.S.

While facing up to 48 years in prison for all his lies and stealing, Sohn received but 37 months. He also claimed he had a cocaine and marijuana problem, even though 21 of his co-workers who spent as many as 22 hours a day with him reported they’d seen no evidence of drug use. Of course, if Sohn goes though a jail rehab program he can knock a year off his sentence. 

Leave it to a politician’s aide to know how to game the system. I only hope he has to pawn the ring for the court-ordered restitution and his prospective wife sleeps with his best friend while he’s locked up.

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4. Roger Melson, Jr.

What goes together better than a gambling problems and embezzlement? Sure, the 56-year old former director of audits at the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office says he’s overcome his problem now that his access to state money’s been cut off. That’s the easy part. What are we supposed to do with the $1.16 million hole he blew in Oklahoma’s state budget between 2004 and 2009?

Melson worked for 21-years at the agency and was making $67,300/year. Now he’s working maintenance at a church. Care to guess how long it’ll take to make restitution? Especially once he gets his prison time, which you can guarantee will be a lot more severe than what Sohn faced. Melson plead guilty to 174 felony embezzlements counts, each carrying 20 years in prison.

Of course, the question isn’t just what to do with Melson, but about the supervision provided by outgoing Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office. He promised that with the help of the legislature he’s successfully reformed and modernized the Land Office, which handles royalty and lease payments from oil and gas companies among other things, totaling in excess of $3.5 billion.

A few days late and about $1,160,000 short on that. As for Melson, he’ll experience the rush of high-risk gambling every time he leaves his prison cell.

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3. Cynthia Jo Lark

Cynthia Jo Lark worked as a clerk for the Northumberland Sewer Authority, so perhaps they didn’t notice the stink. The 48-year old Pennsylvania woman began embezzling money back in 2000 or 2001. Since 2005 she embezzled nearly $300,000, by forging her bosses’ names on payroll checks in excess of her regular pay.

Though her salary was $26,913 in 2005 and $33,113 when she was caught in 2009, she paid herself – $38,477, $46, 527, $60,800, $77,923, and $70,397 – over those years. Part of how she could afford it, was by not paying the payroll taxes for the authority’s four employees for five years — totaling $420,000, plus interest. (So, do they get credit for that with Social Security, or are they just hosed?)

Lark would never miss a day of work, even when she was sick (because she couldn’t risk someone else picking up the mail, her boss surmised). She even created fictitious audits in bound books, that one of the department’s auditors found stunningly authentic.

Unfortunately, she simply couldn’t make it to work in January thanks to a brain aneurism that had her hospitalized. Her replacement noticed payroll checks made out to her in amounts far exceeding her salary, which her bosses said they’d never sign. The jig was up.

Lark, a single mother of three teenage girls, between 16 and 19 years old, will receive one to three years in prison, four years of probation, and be forced to pay upwards of $475,000 restitution. (Let’s just acknowledge that’s never going to happen.) She sobbed in court that as a single mother with minimal income and little child support, money was tight. “I wanted to pay it back, but then something else would come up,” she said. “Then it just became easier to take.”

While its easy to sympathize with her troubles, the woman stole almost $50,000 every year! That’s more than enough to “pay the bills.” Indeed, one of the biggest questions is what happened to the money. She bought a house with a $93,000 mortgage, and drove a used van. Clothing at Delia’s, Forever 21 and American Eagle can’t cost that much, can it? Those girls better come up with scholarships because they’ve already had their free ride on the taxpayer’s dime.

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2. Denisa Babcock

Former Clinton County Community School District accountant Denisa Babcock and her husband decided they were tired of being poor, and so they decided to go for broke. Two years after their 2003 bankruptcy, Babcock began depositing checks payable to the School District in accounts under her control. (Really builds your confidence in our banks, right?)

From November 2005 until December 2009, the 36-year old stole money in excess of $500,000. (The audit won’t be released until later today.) They used it to fund a 2006 Hummer, a 2007 Escalade, a 29-foot ’98 Sea Ray Cruiser, and two Camanche, Iowa homes. (What, no time-share in the Bahamas?)

In the ultimate irony, Babcock — who was hired in 2004 and earned $38,600/year — lost her job in December because of budget cuts engendered by the slow economy and money shortfalls. A month after her departure, the financial irregularities were found. If convicted, Babcock faces up to 10 years in prison.

Aside from the idiocy of hiring an accountant that had recently
filed for bankruptcy, how does a school district lose track of more than
$100,000/year in a little place like Clinton, Iowa (pop. 26,447)? It’s this
kind of management that makes people leery of giving more money to

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1. Wendy Gaskins and Anita Rainey

While we wouldn’t want to give South Carolina governor Mark Sanford any undeserved credit except for his taste in hot Argentinian mistresses — we wonder if this is why Sanford balked at receiving money from the federal government. “We’re too incompetent to keep track of the money we have,” he seemed to suggest. At least that seems to be the case in hindsight.

In the past two weeks, two South Carolina DMV employees have been charged with embezzlement. On September 8, Wendy Gaskins, a 39-year old facilities manager at the DMV was accused of diverting over $300,000 to a phony construction company’s checking account, beginning in March of last year and continuing until June of this year. She used the money for a major house renovation, a mortgage, and for a travel trailer.

Then, last week, Anita Rainey, a 48-year old DMV employee was accused of stealing payments made to the SCDMV totaling $11,564. Clearly she wasn’t as ambitious as Gaskins, but it was a distressing double whammy. Because of budget shortfall that’s expected to reach $1 billion this year, South Carolina cut the staff of the State Office of the Auditor in half. Now agencies are only audited every three years, which South Carolina comptroller Richard Eckstrom suggests emboldens thieves.

It was only last year that 61-year old Paul Moore, the brother of former state senator/gubernatorial candidate Tommy Moore, was charged with embezzling more than $5.5 million over a four-year period while finance director of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. (He needed the money more than poor people to satisfy his appetite for strippers, gambling and booze.) He was sentenced to 10 years this summer.

South Carolina’s just lucky you can’t “short” state governments — though you have to believe Wall Street’s financial whizzes are working on that as we speak. After this and Sanford’s grandstanding, you wouldn’t imagine anyone would be real enthusiastic about sending more federal money down there. Hell, their state bonds could go begging, and if I lived there I certainly would vote for any levies to gild someone else’s pocket.

Read last Friday’s Top 5 White Collar Villains: Derek Sawyer Helps British Pedophile Hide His Past.