By the time her 15-year career at a Cambria construction company was over, Elizabeth Edith Shaw had allegedly stolen more than $1.1 million in company funds.
Now the 69-year-old Cambria woman sits in San Luis Obispo County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail — the subject of a criminal investigation and state and federal civil lawsuits alleging she abused her position as Winsor Construction’s bookkeeper to use company funds to pay her mortgage, bills and vehicle registration fees.
Shaw appeared Wednesday morning in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for her arraignment. The hearing was continued until May 2.
Shaw’s criminal defense attorney, Jay Peterson, declined to comment Wednesday on the criminal charges.
According to the state lawsuit filed in 2016, Shaw began working for Tim and Linda Winsor on Sept. 18, 2000.
As Winsor Construction’s sole bookkeeper, Shaw was responsible for handling company finances and was a signing authority for the company’s petty cash account, but not its operating expenses account.
A sworn affidavit signed by the county Sheriff’s Office senior investigator Fred Pflum offered more details of how the alleged embezzling came to light.
In December 2015, Tim Winsor approached Shaw, telling her that he wanted to give $20,000 in Christmas bonuses to company employees. Shaw told Winsor there was only $28,000 in the company operating account, according to Pflum’s affidavit.
“Tim Winsor said he had not had that small an amount of cash in the account in the past 30, 40 years,” Pflum wrote.
At the time, Winsor said he attributed the lack of funds to late payments from the state and federal governments, as well as the loss of revenue from a recently sold rock quarry.
Then, in February 2016, he had to make a $50,000 personal loan to his company to make monthly payroll and other expenses.
“This led the Winsors to look into the company finances more closely,” Pflum wrote.
The Winsors told police that Shaw was reluctant to provide them with the requested bank records, and the records she did provide were incomplete.
Eventually, the Winsors and a newly hired accountant uncovered several “irregularities” with their business accounts, including numerous entries in the accounting software QuickBooks for a company with which the Winsors did not have an account, Pflum wrote. When the Winsors reviewed copies of the checks, it was revealed that they had been endorsed to Shaw, according to the complaint.
“It appeared Shaw had forged Tim Winsor’s name to the checks,” Pflum wrote. “There were several company names used frequently by Shaw over the years to write herself checks.”
The audit turned up several checks going to two bank accounts — at separate banks — belonging to Shaw. In addition, the accountant discovered several overpayments to various utilities, with no evidence of a credit being placed on the company account.
On March 9, 2016, the Winsors reported the missing money to Pflum. The next day, Tim Winsor called Shaw “and informed her she was being fired.”
According to the Winsors, Shaw was responsible for $1,163,400 in stolen funds beginning in January 2005 and ending on March 8, 2016.
An attorney representing Shaw contacted the Winsors shortly after the money was reported missing, Pflum wrote. He told the Winsors that “Shaw can’t live with herself knowing she had taken advantage of the Winsors by fraudulently taking the money.”
Shaw allegedly offered to sell her home on Wilcombe Drive in Cambria in order to reimburse the company.
According to county records, Shaw acquired the deed to the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home under the name Elizabeth French in January 2004, nearly a year before the alleged embezzling began. The County Assessor’s Office now values the property at $397,000.
However, the Winsors didn’t hear from that attorney again, according to Pflum’s affidavit.
On Aug. 30, 2016, Judge Dodie Harman approved a warrant to allow police to examine Shaw’s bank accounts. A detective found that the majority of the forged checks were deposited into her personal account.
Then on March 16, a month before charges were filed, Shaw and her attorney, Peterson, met with Deputy District Attorney Eric Dobroth and Pflum, and Shaw allegedly admitted to cashing forged checks beginning in January 2005. She said she was able to do so because Tim Winsor gave her written permission to cash checks made out to him on his behalf, according to the complaint.
“Shaw also said she did not realize the dollar amount was as large as it was,” Pflum wrote. “Shaw made the statement, ‘Tim did not expect this of me and I did not expect this of me.’ ”