COEUR d’ALENE — The former city of Coeur d’Alene finance employee suspected of embezzling city funds pleaded guilty Friday to six counts of wire fraud totaling approximately $365,000, according to federal court records.
Sheryl Lynn Carroll, 52, entered the plea in U.S. District Court that admitted she “abused a position of public trust” while she handled money for the city, according to the Rule 11 plea agreement.
“She falsely and fraudulently represented that she was sending money to legitimate Vendors when she was actually causing the payments to be directly deposited by Wire transfers into her bank account,” a copy of the charges signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan states.
Carroll faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count, the plea agreement states.
Carroll was hired by the city Oct. 17, 2002. She stole around $365,000 through 120 fraudulent transfers from 2007 to 2012 as she worked as a payroll coordinator in the city’s finance department, according to court records. While making these transactions, court filings state, Carroll made false entries into the city’s accounts payable journal and gave false verbal reports to superiors that the payments were being made to valid vendors.
“This was materially false and fraudulent information,” the charges, signed by the prosecutor’s office Sept. 25, state.
Carroll signed the plea agreement Friday, and the records were unavailable until then.
Attorney Gary Amendola, representing Carroll, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. Carroll did not return a message left by The Press.
The three vendors Carroll used to reportedly defraud the city, according to the court records, are the Voluntary Employee Benefit Association, International Association of Fire Fighters and United Heritage Mutual insurance company. The accounts were a part of “payroll deductions and employee benefits.”
Carroll was terminated by the city in July after city staff noticed financial irregularities while Carroll was away on vacation, the city told The Press in previous interviews.
An Aug. 3 article in The Press showed that Carroll had also been convicted of first degree theft in 1983 and ordered to pay nearly $9,000 in restitution for stealing from Everett Turner Realtors, the real estate office in Bend, Ore., for which she had worked at the time. She had the last name of Anderson then.
City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said in that article the city did not know about Carroll’s past when they hired her, and that in light of the embezzlement case, all finance department positions will be added to the city’s FBI background checks. Previously, they weren’t.
City Finance Director Troy Tymesen said Friday afternoon that the city’s finance department will implement a second level of custody over wire transfers in light of the investigation. Carroll had been the sole employee doing wire transfers for payroll at the time. Tymesen said wire accounts will now have two people overseeing each transfer, meaning routing and accounting data will have to pass dual custody.
“Basically two sets of eyes on those transactions,” he said. “Two different fingerprints is what we’re adding.”
He said the department will also implement “mini-audits” on wire transfers during the year, in addition to keeping its annual audit. The dual custody has been practiced when checks are issued, just not wire transfers, he said.
“We’re not going to let this happen again, where someone can get creative and move money to themselves,” he said.
Of the three vendors Carroll used, only Heritage Mutual insurance company suffered financially. The other two, VEBA and IAFF, were used in name only on fraudulent transfers, but did not lose money, Tymesen said. He said the city will seek restitution.
Sentencing for Carroll hasn’t been scheduled, according to court records.
Last year, Kootenai County’s former chief deputy clerk and auditing supervisor, Sandy Martinson, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $49,000 in restitution. Martinson was convicted of stealing $140,000 over 10 years.