Saturday, November 1, 2014

California Woman Sentenced To 4 Years For Embezzling $685K From T-Shirt Company

From the Sierra Star on 10/28/2014:

Former bookkeeper sentenced to four years
Tashima pled guilty April 7, to grand theft embezzlement and felony identity theft after stealing $685,000 between 2007 and 2012

Sue Tashima, a former bookkeeper for Oakhurst T-shirt company Simply Smashing, Inc., was sentenced Oct. 27, to four years in the Fresno County Jail for embezzlement, and ordered to pay restitution to two victims totaling $485,000.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Arlan Harrell also ordered Tashima to spend three years of supervised probation after her release from jail.

Tashima, formerly known as Sue Caldwell, turned herself in and pled guilty April 7, to two grand theft embezzlement charges and two felony identity theft charges after stealing $685,000 between 2007 and 2012 — $325,000 from Simply Smashing and an additional $360,000 from a Fresno real estate investment business, The CVI Group. She was found guilty by Judge Harrell on July 21. As part of a plea bargain, Tashima made partial restitution payments during the proceedings of $100,000 to each of the businesses.

Sentencing was delayed six months to allow her to finish her classes at Paul Mitchell's Beauty School in Fresno and be able to take her state cosmetology board exams.

Tim Fruehe and his wife, Barbara, are the owners of Simply Smashing.

According to Tim Fruehe, Tashima came to work for his company in 2006, after relocating to Oakhurst from Watsonville, as a part-time bookkeeper.

"We hired her based on her supposed spotless background, 20 years of bookkeeping experience, and her charming personality," Fruehe said. "Sue quickly earned our trust and appeared to be saving us money through her efficiency and skill. Everyone loved her. Like most employees at a small business, she became like family to us — you would never guess she was stealing thousands and thousands of dollars from us."

Fruehe said within a week of taking over the accounting department, Tashima took $6,500 for herself through an extra payroll check.

Fruehe said Tashima was stealing about $5,000 to $10,000 a month for about four years.
"From 2008 to 2010, we were blaming our losses to the recession at the time and never even considered to look at our trusted bookkeeper.She invited us to her wedding on July 4, 2010 — a wedding we now know was paid for with our money. She bragged about buying her husband a Rolex watch for a wedding gift and loved showing off her $20,000 wedding ring." "

Fruehe said by 2010, the company's finances were getting so bad he started liquidating personal assets such as two homes, and $150,000 from his retirement savings in order to keep Simply Smashing in business and his employees working.

"While we were selling our homes, and cashing out 401Ks and IRAs on her advice, she (Tashima) was very sympathetic to the troubles we were going through and told us she would do everything she could to help us, including cutting her hours back," Fruehe said.

According to Fruehe, additional financial problems were hindering the company due to Tashima, including a Xerox lease default resulting in a $400,000 judgment against Simply Smashing, default on credit lines, and more than $200,000 in supplier debt — all leading Fruehe to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in late 2011, and the short sale of two homes.

It was about that time, according to Fruehe, that the Fresno company discovered the loss of funds due to Tashima. It was in June of 2013, when Fruehe got a call from Fresno Police Department Financial Crimes Unit Detective Teri Terry.

"She (Terry) told me that while she was investigating a Fresno embezzlement case involving Tashima, she came across Simply Smashing canceled checks totaling about $70,000 from January through July 2010," Fruehe said.

Prior to sentencing, Tim Fruehe read an emotional victim impact statement to the judge, opening with "The first thing Susan stole in 2007 was our trust. The kind of trust that is normally only given to ones family. With our trust securely held in her possession she promptly stole her first check three weeks after taking control of the accounting department. From 2007 through 2012, Susan was fully aware of the company and its president's financial suffering - often sympathizing and offering encouragement with a big smile. Looking back, it is apparent that she wanted to destroy Simply Smashing and leave me, the president, in financial ruin, all for her own financial gain and personal enjoyment. She almost succeeded."

Fruehe said words cannot express the pain and suffering a victim goes through when experiencing the nightmare of losing everything achieved through a lifetime of hard work. "Since being caught in November of 2012, Sue has been free for over 20 months. Your honor, it is time for her to be locked up, for Susan to pay for her crimes and for justice to be served."

A similar second letter was read on behalf of Solley.

Prior to sentencing, Judge Harrell said he normally does not make comments about a defendant, "but in this case, after hearing the Fruehe's and Solley's impact statements I feel compelled to tell this one like it is — Ms. Tashima, you are nothing more than a criminal."

After the sentencing, Barbara Fruehe said hearing her husband speak his mind to the judge, the defendant, and her attorney, was worth the wait.

"There was no better sound than the click click of those hand cuffs after sentencing," Barbara said.
At the time of her arrest, Tim Fruehe said he was telling his story so other small businesses can be aware of what can happen to them once someone steals your trust.

"No matter how good you think your bookkeeper is, or how much you trust them, you better be routinely checking your bank statements," Fruehe said.

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