Thursday, August 09, 2001

Suspects at large in Mosler embezzlement

FBI says payroll clerk diverted $274,000

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — In just four months, authorities say, a payroll clerk and three accomplices embezzled nearly $274,000 from Mosler Inc., the venerable Hamilton safe company that closed its doors last week.

        The FBI on Wednesday said agents were obtaining federal fugitive warrants for Mosler payroll clerk Billie Jean (Strouth) Morris and her husband, Lloyd, both of Hamilton, along with his brother, Raymond, of Gastonia, N.C. A third accomplice has been arrested.

 Ms. Wright
Ms. Wright
        Authorities say the scheme worked this way: Mrs. Morris would write Mosler checks to her three alleged accomplices, who would cash the checks, then give some of the money to Mrs. Morris. None of Mrs. Morris' alleged accomplices worked at Mosler.

        Investigators say the three Morrises have been on the run since February or March, after Mrs. Morris' friend, Jill C. Wright, was questioned. The Cincinnati Enquirer learned of the investigation this week while reporting on a rash of white-collar crime cases in Butler County.

        Ms. Wright, 38, pleaded guilty to complicity to grand theft in April. She was sentenced in June to six months in the county's minimum-security jail, where she refused to talk to a reporter Wednesday.

        The Mosler theft, which comes amid a crackdown on embezzlements in Butler County, did not contribute to the company's downfall, said Mosler's controller, Jim Martin. Mosler, reeling from financial problems, closed its doors last Friday after more than a century in Hamilton.

        “There's no correlation between the company closing and that case,” Mr. Martin said Wednesday. “In fact, we received insurance money back from that case that covered virtually all of the theft.”

        Mr. Martin wouldn't discuss how the theft was discovered, and couldn't say why Mrs. Morris was entrusted with handling money despite having a prior theft conviction.

        In 1983, Mrs. Morris, then known as Billie Jean Strouth, was charged with robbery in the Florence, Ky., area, but was later found guilty of reduced charges of theft and assault, authorities said.

        Court documents charge the embezzlements at Mosler began in October 2000 — five months after Lloyd and Billie Jean Morris married, records show.

        Mosler officials discovered the money missing in February. They reported the theft to Hamilton police in March. In April, warrants on felony theft charges were issued from Hamilton Municipal Court for Mrs. Morris, 44, her husband, 61, and his 60-year-old brother.

        Ms. Wright, in an April 25 Common Pleas Court document, promised to help authorities find the three Morrises and cooperate in prosecuting them. She acknowledged she was charged with a lesser offense because of that promise.

        Ms. Wright was later ordered to pay restitution of $53,767.35, plus costs incurred by the justice system in her case.

        Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper, who assigned the case to his new white-collar crimes/consumer fraud unit, warned: “In the city of Hamilton, we've seen an exodus of some very important businesses — and anybody who helps hurt any of our businesses can expect to pay the highest price.”

        Anyone with information is asked to call Mr. Piper's office at 887-3474 or Hamilton Police Detective Steve Rogers at 868-5811.

        Enquirer reporter Jim Hannah contributed to this story.


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