Seattle woman sentenced to prison for embezzling from high-end mountain bike company
Sophisticated scheme used multiple frauds to avoid detection
Seattle – A Seattle woman who was employed as a contract bookkeeper and accountant for a high-end mountain bike company was sentenced November 19, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 28 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Joan C. Trower, 51, pleaded guilty in August 2021. At the sentencing hearing, Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez said that it is part of the Court’s “job to protect the community, especially small businesses such as the victim in this case.”
According to records filed in the case, Trower worked as a contract bookkeeper and accountant for the mountain bike company from July 2015 to May 2018. Her contract was terminated when the embezzlement was discovered. Trower used a variety of schemes to steal over $150,000 from company accounts: creating checks using the company software system, forging signatures, claiming expenses and compensation she did not earn, and making transfers from company accounts to accounts she controlled in the names of phony tax accounting businesses. For example, while most employees received at most three checks per month (two for salary and one for expenses), Trower wrote as many as thirteen checks to herself in one month. Trower put false descriptions in the memo line, sometimes falsely claiming the funds were to reimburse her for an outside tax accounting firm she claimed to have hired. Trower also transferred money from company accounts to accounts she controlled—transferring more than $26,000 to her account in the span of just a few months in 2018. Trower and her boyfriend used the money to, among other things, gamble at area casinos.
Trower committed aggravated identity theft when she forged the signature of company executives on fraudulent checks and when she submitted false invoices in the name of a third-party tax accountant to justify reimbursements to Trower.
Writing to the court, prosecutors noted that the scheme was difficult to detect. Trower’s “scheme was elaborate, sophisticated, and longstanding. She created fake business entities and fake bank accounts for those entities in order to conceal the nature of her transfers of funds from the company. Ms. Trower even went so far as to create at least one alter ego email account: a fake email account that she would correspond with, apparently in an attempt to justify certain expenses or accounting maneuvers,” Assistant United States Attorney William Dreher wrote in the sentencing memo.
Trower is obligated to pay $168,597 in restitution to the mountain bike company.
The case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney William Dreher.