Over the Hill

Habit of ‘borrowing’ leads to trouble

I doubt most embezzlers start out to steal. I bet most just begin “borrowing” a little. That thought crept into my mind Wednesday as I read The Tribune’s story about Morgan Rafferty of Arroyo Grande, whose sentence for embezzlement was six months in jail and three years’ probation.

She was convicted of stealing $31,000 from Mothers for Peace. She was the group’s treasurer. She was also accused of stealing almost the same amount from the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, where she was executive director.

I don’t know her, and all I know about her case is what I read in The Tribune. But I have known a few embezzlers. In the 1950s, when I was selling vacuum cleaners, two of my fellow salesmen pawned some of the company’s cleaners and then lost the money betting at Bay Meadows race track.

They had hoped to use their winnings to redeem the vacuum cleaners from the pawn shop.

Later I became a branch manager for a finance company with several branch offices in the San Francisco Bay Area. From time to time I’d hear that one or another of my fellow managers got caught embezzling from the company.

The root of those managers’ troubles was usually slow horses, fast women or both. Today we’d add drugs to that list. With hobbies like those, they’d often find themselves short of money for car payments, or rent, or other necessities. So they’d help themselves to some of the company’s money and pretend to have loaned it to fictitious borrowers.

Maybe they told themselves they weren’t really stealing, but were just making themselves loans under aliases, and that they’d repay the loans with interest. But they never managed to repay them. In fact they often made themselves a few more loans, some to make payments on their earlier loans. The company auditors usually caught on before too much damage was done.

In 1968, I was reincarnated as a local news reporter. As such, I occasionally reported on embezzlers. They were usually normal people who’d become treasurers of youth groups, athletic organizations, special districts and the like. They “borrowed” from their treasuries, probably always intending to repay but never managing to. I wonder if their secrets kept them awake nights.

So, if you are an officer of a club, civic organization, agency or church, do your treasurer a favor and have regular, thorough audits. An old proverb says, “Locks keep honest people honest.” So do audits. Lead your treasurer not into temptation.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.