Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Embezzling reports rise in township

West Chester police make arrests in three cases

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP — Police are pursuing an unusual number of embezzlement cases — crimes that, in their own way, can be almost as devastating as violent ones.

        Police, who generally handle about four embezzlement cases a year, have received at least five reports alleging embezzlements since November, said Sgt. Matt Brillhart.

    • Michael Litrell, 32, of Florence, Ky., was charged with theft of about $205,000 over a year from the Shell service station he managed at 9210 Cincinnati-Columbus Road, West Chester.
    • Darlene Hooker, 58, of Colerain Township, is charged with the theft of about $65,000 from Rivercity Woodworking Inc., and Conservatory Plant Leasing.
    • Steven Kennedy, 40, of Saxton Drive, is accused of embezzling $7,300 from the Radio Shack on Tylersville Road, West Chester.
    • Kimberly Norton, 35, of Evendale, pleaded guilty to grand theft and four counts of forgery in March. The charges involved $57,000 from Clarke Inc., a waste-disposal company in the 9700 block of Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester.
    • Merrell Wood, 54, faces two counts of theft, fifth-degree felonies alleging that he wrongfully obtained about $2,500.
    • Michael L. Coyan, 46, is charged with grand theft and grand theft by deception. Each count is a fourth-degree felony involving “$5,000 or more.”
    • Donna F. Oakley, 41, is accused of theft in office. While working as a finance clerk for the city of Monroe, she gave herself an unauthorized pay increase of about $1,200, authorities said.
        Three of the cases — including one totaling more than $200,000 — led to arrests last week.

        “To have this many active cases at once is a little unusual. I don't know why (the upsurge) is happening, but we take these cases seriously,” Sgt. Brillhart said.

        “Generally, white-collar crime is looked at as a non-violent crime that doesn't hurt anybody — and that's not true because a lot of businesses go bankrupt if this happens.”

        The spate of embezzlement cases comes while Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper is activating a unit to focus on white-collar crimes and consumer fraud.

        While Mr. Piper's office has also assisted with white-collar investigations in Middletown and Monroe, West Chester has the most cases so far.

        That may be because West Chester has more white-collar jobs — and because West Chester police “are developing a keen sense of what to look for and how to go about investigating it,” Mr. Piper said.

        Sgt. Brillhart welcomes the help from Mr. Piper's office.

        “These cases are very intricate. You almost need a forensic accountant to figure them out,” he said.

        Richard J. Neubauer Jr., 47, owner of Rivercity Woodworking Inc., said a recent embezzlement significantly harmed his business and Conservatory Plant Leasing, owned by his wife, Suzan, 46.

        Police say the West Chester firms suffered a combined loss of about $65,000 over 4 1/2 years.

        “We had a lot of really lean times, times when we were doing a lot of work, but we weren't making any money,” Mr. Neubauer said.

        “It's been devastating psychologically. We trusted this person completely ... and it hurts the growth of your business.”

        His wife's business was so badly affected, she nearly closed it, Mr. Neubauer said.

        “It's like getting beaten up all the time over a four or five-year period — it's just a different kind of being beaten up,” Mr. Neubauer said.


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