Brief Look at Crime 03/03 – 03/09

Man admits to stealing more than $4.9 mill. from his employer

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Neosho, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to stealing more than $4.9 million from his employer. David VanWinkle, 60, of Neosho, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to wire fraud, money laundering and failure to pay taxes. VanWinkle was the comptroller for Frontier Leasing Incorporated (FLI) in Joplin, Mo. By pleading guilty today, VanWinkle admitted that he stole $4,911,621 from FLI between June 2008 and December 2013, which he spent on personal expenses and gambling. Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, VanWinkle must forfeit to the government $4,911,621, a 2013 Holland tractor, a 2007 Hummer H3, a 2012 John Deere no-till seed drill, and $28,086 that was seized from various bank accounts. Under federal statutes, VanWinkle is subject to a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $750,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

Gretna woman pleads guilty to stealing $4.1M

A 54-year-old Gretna woman already serving time for tax evasion has pleaded guilty to stealing the $4.1 million on which she didn’t pay taxes. Caroline Richardson made her plea Monday in Douglas County District Court in Omaha. Her sentencing is scheduled for March 18. She faces up to 10 more years in prison. She’s already serving a five-year term. Prosecutors say Richardson stole from Omaha-based Colombo Candy and Tobacco in 2010 and 2011 while working as company controller. Prosecutors say she used the money to gamble at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Colombo has sued Ameristar, saying the casino knew about Richardson’s job and her approximate salary and should have known Richardson was gambling with ill-gotten money.

Biologist discovers body

It was a gruesome discovery: a man’s partially decomposed body lying halfway down a steep gully in the Summit-Waller area, shrouded by bushes. A biologist who set out Friday morning to do some field work near Swan Creek at the base of the ravine found the remains and called 911. Margaret Effelberg, the woman charged in Cortes’ murder, told a friend “she was surprised that he has not been found yet and that he is close by,” according to charging papers in the case. Effelberg is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree trafficking in stolen property and second-degree possessing stolen property in Cortes’ death. She became a suspect after detectives learned she was the last person to speak to Cortes on the phone. Effelberg reportedly helped Cortes manage his bills and other paperwork. Prosecutors allege she killed Cortes because she was desperate for money due to a gambling addiction and faced eviction. Effelberg also is accused of gaining access to Cortes’ bank account, using stolen debit cards and selling his truck.

Investment banker stole more than £500,000 from wealthy clients to fund gambling habit

An investment banker who stole nearly £600,000 from wealthy clients to fund his gambling habit has been jailed for two years. Timothy Brooks, 42, who was employed at the Mayfair Private Banking Service division of Lloyds TSB Banking Group, plundered money from the private banking accounts of customers over a six-year period. The married father-of-three pleaded guilty at Manchester Crown Court to 17 counts of fraud, with withdrawals totalling £573,736 diverted to bank accounts he set up in the names of his children. He revealed that he had deliberately chosen customers with the biggest portfolios who were least likely to notice thousands going missing. The money was stolen in 57 separate transactions – but went unnoticed until a processing error led to one of the payments being looked at more closely last July. Mark Ford, defending Brooks in court, said that at the time of the thefts Brooks was in the ‘vice-like’ grip of a gambling addiction. Huge sums were spent on casino tables and online sports betting with companies including Grosvenor Casinos.

Woman threatens to blow up gambling hall where she lost 130,000 yuan

A WOMAN threatened to set off explosives in an illegal gaming room in Chongming County after she lost 130,000 yuan (US$21,138) on gambling machines, but instead fainted due to high blood sugar and was sent to a hospital, police said yesterday. The woman, 48, whose name was not released, became addicted to gambling after a neighbor took her to a nearby game room in November to cheer her up after an investment of hers failed. She won some money at the beginning but then lost 130,000 yuan over three months. On February 28, a gambling machine broke when she thought she was about to win over 6,000 yuan. She got into a dispute with the gaming room owner and he hit her on the head, causing her to fall to the ground, police said. Driven by anger at the owner, she bought firecrackers and put the gunpowder inside them into glass bottles. She took the bottles to the gaming room and used an iron bar there to damage the machines. She also threatened the workers who tried to stop her by shouting that she had explosives. But she fainted as her blood sugar spiraled while she was angry. Police called to the scene removed the bottles with gunpowder, and the woman was sent to a hospital, where she was questioned by police.

 Former Bellevue employee admits to stealing $117,000 meant for youth sports

Long-time Bellevue Parks and Community Services employee Heather Christoff has resigned her position as recreation program coordinator while the Bellevue Police Department investigates to see whether she stole more than $117,000 to fund her gambling habit. During questioning at police headquarters in January, Christoff, a 10-year veteran of the parks department, admitted she “created the business to embezzle money from the City of Bellevue.”  The court documents said that Christoff also confessed “she stole the money because she was experiencing financial difficulties” which were “a direct result of her gambling addiction.”

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