Volume 46, Issue 11 - December 2011

Legislation&Legal

After Employee Theft: One Company Learns to Move On
While theft and embezzlement might seem more likely to happen in big, corporate America than a family-owned and -operated glass business, such criminal activities can happen to anyone, anywhere.

“With a small company you hope if [employees] are treated like family they wouldn’t do something like that. But it doesn’t matter the size of the company,” says Ken von Roenn, president and director of design for Louisville, Ky.-based Architectural Glass Art Inc. (AGA), a family-owned business for 136 years. “If someone is going to steal they will do so whether the company is large or small. It’s the nature of the person.”

Earlier this year Von Roenn learned that the company’s chief financial officer (CFO), Latrisha Riedling, had been stealing money, the sum of which totaled approximately $750,000. Riedling had started with AGA in 2005 as a bookkeeper and was promoted to CFO in 2008. In late October she was indicted on 23 counts of theft. She currently is out on bond, with a court date next month.

Von Roenn says it was the first week in June when he realized through payroll records that something was wrong. He explains that Riedling’s husband had been a contract employee for AGA, placing him on the payroll. It became evident that his earnings had been falsified.

“It turned out he was our highest paid employee for the past three years,” says Von Roenn.

Upon this realization, Von Roenn first called the company’s attorney to get instructions on how to handle the situation. That was when he brought Riedling in to address the matter. He says she admitted the theft and said she’d do whatever she could to pay it back; she did not want to go to jail.

“I told her we would not prosecute her if she gave us the full extent of what she’d done and she said it [had] only been going on since last October,” says Von Roenn. “We said we’d look into everything and told her to leave her computer, records, keys, access cards, etc., and as we began digging into the books we found it was way past the date of last October.” Von Roenn previously had another company, Glassworks, which had a large retail component where about 20 percent of the sales were in cash.

“She stole almost all of the cash that came in, about $500,000,” he says. “When we realized how large it all was we called the police.”

Von Roenn says everything has been turned over to the police and Riedling has been charged with a class three felony.

Now that the commonwealth’s prosecuting attorney has taken over, Von Roenn and AGA are working to move on and rebuild. He says there is a lot that other companies can learn from this. For example, it’s important to not only have a system of checks and balances, but also a system where the owner, and not only a comptroller, is responsible for looking at the books.

But even with a sound system in place, it still goes back to the nature of the individual.

“The police said we had some of the best checks and balances they’d seen; she just knew how the system worked,” Von Roenn says. “So having an accountant double-check everything is also good.”

He also suggests that working with a financial advisor can help identify weaknesses in the system.

“It all comes down to checks and balances. Double-check everything. It’s amazing the breadth of ways people can steal,” Von Roenn says.

So, what happens now for AGA?

“We’re trying to not let anger and bitterness taint what we do,” says Von Roenn, who explains the company is using this experience as an opportunity to strengthen what it does.

“We’ve gotten our operations more streamlined; having sold Glassworks we can now focus solely on what we do here. We have a new accounting system and have gotten our accountant more involved. We’ve also elevated and improved the relationship we have with our bank,” Von Roenn says. He adds that the company’s morale has even improved.

“It’s always been good, but since this happened it’s increased the bond and kinship because the employees did not feel as though the company had been stolen from; they felt as though they’d been stolen from,” he says. “We’re a very trusting company. We’ve been a family business for 136 years and we treat everyone as family.”

He adds, “We will survive. We’ll continue to work harder and at the end of the day we’ll be better people for it.”



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