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Woman Charged with Defrauding Former Employer of More than $150,000

January 4, 2012

Urbana, Ill. – An Iroquois county woman appeared in federal court this afternoon for arraignment on charges that she defrauded her former employer, a Champaign, Ill., law firm, of more than $150,000 over ten years. Laura R. Tholen, 55, of Buckley, Ill., appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David G. Bernthal who scheduled trial for Mar. 12, 2012.

On Dec. 6, 2011, a federal grand jury charged Tholen with three counts of mail fraud related to an alleged scheme to defraud her former employer, Erwin, Martinkus & Cole, Ltd., of Champaign, Ill. According to the indictment, during the time of the alleged scheme, from February 2000 to February 2010, Tholen was employed as the firm’s office manager and served as legal assistant to an attorney who primarily practiced family law. In this capacity, Tholen was responsible for the attorney’s client trust account where money received from clients was held until needed to be used to pay filing fees, child support, spousal maintenance, associated legal fees, court costs and settlements of accounts and expenses.

The indictment alleges that Tholen prepared the firm’s trust account checks for amounts related to her own personal expenses and presented the checks to the firm’s bookkeeper or other authorized person to sign. Tholen allegedly prepared fraudulent posting slips for the checks with existing client account numbers and a brief description. Based on Tholen’s alleged false representation that the checks were intended for the client’s expenses, the firm’s bookkeeper deducted the amount from the client’s trust account and signed the checks.

The indictment alleges that Tholen defrauded the firm of more than $150,000 and prepared more than 100 checks paid from the firm’s trust account to pay her own expenses, including credit card accounts, rents on her home, and other expenses and personal items.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the Champaign Police Department, in cooperation with Erwin, Martinkus & Cole, Ltd. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly M. Peirson.

If convicted, each count of mail fraud (three counts) carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Final sentences are determined by the court. In imposing sentence, the court may consider federal sentencing guidelines, which include a defendant’s criminal history, the amount of loss, and other applicable factors.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

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