A woman accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from Frank Fletcher Ford and Credit Cars of Joplin has pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with the thefts.
Kathryn M. Stayton, 36, a former controller with both car dealerships, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single count in U.S. District Court in Springfield. The Joplin woman’s plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri would dismiss nine additional counts of wire fraud contained in an indictment handed up June 12 by a federal grand jury.
The 10 counts of the indictment were based solely on the theft of $88,230 from Frank Fletcher Ford between September 2009 and September 2011, when she was fired for unrelated reasons.
Stayton then worked for Credit Cars of Joplin for a couple of months before her embezzlements from both dealerships came to light, according to her plea agreement. The extent of her thefts from the second dealership came to $13,079, the plea agreement states.
The conviction carries up to 20 years in prison with three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date has yet to be set.
Stayton used her position as controller and manager of the accounting department at Frank Fletcher Ford to transfer funds from the dealership’s business accounts to her own personal bank accounts by forging the names of co-workers on documents and checks.
She told investigators that she began stealing from her employer because of personal debts that spiraled out of control. She wrote 70 unauthorized checks totaling $19,895.72 to herself and 61 checks totaling $26,769.24 to her mother. She primarily used automated teller machines to deposit the checks in her own bank account or in an account that she shared with her mother.
Stayton told investigators that her mother and husband knew nothing about her thefts because she managed her family’s finances and was able to remove money from the shared account before her mother would notice it.
Besides the unauthorized checks, she also stole 23 undeposited cash receipts of the Fletcher business totaling $36,365.10, according to the plea agreement.
She admitted to investigators that from time to time, those in sales at Fletcher Ford would give her cash payments on new vehicles, most of which she would pocket and then manipulate rebates to bring the customer’s account into balance. The forged expense checks were concealed by marking them as “we owe” or “rebates.”
The embezzled funds were used to make payments on a 2004 Ford F-150 pickup truck that she bought, and to pay bills, make purchases and gamble, she told investigators. She turned the truck and its keys over to a special agent with the Secret Service in February 2012 after her embezzlements became known and a seizure warrant was issued on the truck.
According to the plea agreement, her thefts from Credit Cars of Joplin took place between Oct. 27 and Dec. 2, 2011. A co-owner of the business learned Dec. 5 of that year of discrepancies found in a bank reconciliation for the month of November and called a meeting of managers, which ended with Stayton leaving the business and never returning.
Extent of fraud
KATHRYN STAYTON’S PLEA AGREEMENT states that the extent of her fraud at the two Joplin car dealerships that employed her entailed 131 transactions amounting to wire fraud, and 44 transactions involving theft and the forging of documents.