FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
For Information Contact:
Former Bookkeeper Sentenced to 46 Months in Prison
In $1.3 Million Embezzlement
- Victim Was Small Landscaping Company -
WASHINGTON - Christopher F. Cunningham, 44, a former bookkeeper, was sentenced today to 46 months in prison on a federal charge stemming from the embezzlement of $1.3 million from a small landscaping company, announced U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Cunningham, most recently of Spain, pled guilty in November 2011 to interstate transportation of money taken by fraud. He was sentenced to the maximum term under federal sentencing guidelines by the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Upon completion of his prison term, Cunningham will be placed on three years of supervised release.
Chief Judge Lamberth also ordered the defendant to pay $961,922 in restitution. In addition, during the investigation, federal agents earlier seized $338,378 in stolen funds, or their equivalent, from bank accounts. That money has been forfeited and returned to the victim.
According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, Cunningham was the trusted bookkeeper of a small electrical contractor/outdoor landscaping business, which originally was based in the District of Columbia. Cunningham was the bookkeeper in name, but the office manager by actual duties. From January 2005 until his employment was terminated in December 2009, he stole a total of $1.3 million from his employers. He used a variety of methods.
For example, Cunningham wrote checks to himself but listed vendors as the purported payee in the victim’s electronic check register. He did not limit himself to a few checks; instead, he wrote at least 263 checks to himself over a period of five years, siphoning off $725,000.
Cunningham also engaged in “online” banking, causing the victim’s banks to send checks to himself at his home address and to pay his other debts. Some of these online payments generated checks which were then deposited into the defendant’s bank accounts; other online transfers paid his American Express account.
A third method of embezzlement was redirecting checks, which should have been deposited into the victim’s accounts, as the checks were made payable to the company, but instead the defendant deposited the checks into his own bank accounts.
Finally, Cunningham also directly paid his own bills with the victim’s money.
To disguise his theft, Cunningham at times altered the bank statements which he would then send via facsimile to the victim’s outside accountant. Another method of concealment was more insidious and hurtful. Cunningham paid himself money but disguised the payments as payroll expenses belonging to a particular employee of the victim company. Thus, at the end of the year, the unsuspecting employee would have been obligated to pay taxes on money that he or she did not actually earn or receive.
In announcing the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Machen and Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin commended the work of Special Agents with the FBI’s Washington Field Office. They also cited the efforts of the staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Diane Hayes and Sarah Reis, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Cheatham, who prosecuted the case.