In aren’t you glad these aren’t your internal controls news, former SDN Communications chief accountant Bradley Whitsell of Sioux Falls, SD pleaded guilty to mail fraud on Monday. The U.S. Attorney’s office states that 46-year-old Whitsell used his various oversight positions to embezzle more than $392,000 over a 10 year period beginning in 2000.
According to court documents, Whitsell used company accounts to pay his credit card bills and pay private school tuition. He also wrote checks to himself, redirected electronic payments to cover his expenses, created company checks on his office printer and requested reimbursement for expenses that already were paid by SDN to pay for various personal expenses, including a large landscaping project at his residence and his country club membership.
Whitsell used access to the company’s accounts payable system to change approved vendors’ names with his own, or with those of companies to which he owed money. He would then print out these checks on his office printer and change the names back to the appropriate vendor in the A/P system.
Whitsell could end up in prison for up to 20 years. He initially pleaded not guilty in June to one count each of Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud, each of which could potentially carry a 20 year sentence and a $250,000 fine. U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson states that Whitsell has agreed to pay back the $392,111.65 and will also cover the $84,000 cost of the audit that uncovered his theft.
SDN CEO Mark Shlanta stated officials started noticing “financial irregularities” connected to Whitsell last year, at which time he was put on administrative leave so the company could conduct a forensic audit and internal investigation. Whitsell resigned before the investigation began (hint: red flag). “It’s been embarrassing for me,” Shlanta said. “I’ve been saddened by the events. Really, I felt betrayed in this past year. Brad was someone I hired and trusted.”
The interesting part of this otherwise droll and useless story is that before the house of cards came crashing down all around him, Whitsell served on the City of Sioux Falls audit committee, not only as a member but as its chair.
Back in June, Sioux Falls Councilor Vernon Brown told one SD blogger that Brad Whitsell received high marks from committee members for his work on the Audit Committee in setting up internal controls for city government. Oh the irony.
Whitsell is currently free on bond and returns to court for sentencing November 7th.