Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Yup. Still nothing.
Spokeswomen from both the San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County District Attorney’s Office told the Rivard Report Friday no arrests have been made or charges filed against the former accountant for Centro San Antonio, who is accused of embezzling an estimated $260,000 from the downtown clean-up and advocacy nonprofit.
“What’s the hold up?” many community members have asked. The Rivard Report turned to local criminal law expert and St. Mary’s University School of Law professor Gerald Reamey to ask that and other questions.
“The problem that comes with those [embezzlement] cases is several-fold,” said Reamey, who is not involved in the Centro case. He spoke generally from his more than 40 years of experience, not to any specific case.
Victims of financial crimes – corporations, nonprofits, even individuals – may be reluctant to turn over all of their financial information, Reamey said. “Not necessarily because they are afraid of more exposure of wrongdoing …. but there can be proprietary or sensitive information that they don’t want to hand over.”
So investigators and victim representatives typically spend a lot of time parsing out what information is available, what is needed, and what they can do without.
Finding a forensic accountant up to the task is also a priority, Reamey said, and then there’s a back-and-forth involved in giving that expert all the data and fulfilling potential requests for more.
From a prosecutor’s standpoint, the oft-complex embezzlement needs to be boiled down to be “simple enough and clear enough to explain to a jury,” Reamey said, as the average juror likely won’t be able to read complex accounting documents.
Reamey’s comments echoed those of Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, who in December 2017 told the Rivard Report that the burden of proof is more complicated in financial cases.
“It takes probable cause to charge and arrest [someone] … but it takes ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ to convict them,” LaHood said, also speaking generally.
Another reason an arrest could take a while is that the accused may be engaged in “pre-indictment negotiations” to arrange some kind of deal, Reamey said. The accused may have evidence useful to convict another criminal or want to negotiate restitution in exchange for a more lenient sentence or dismissal of charges.
Asked if the risk of the suspect fleeing the country increases with time, Reamey said in his experience white collar criminals are less likely to run than violent or even common “street” criminals because the sentence – if there is one – is more likely to be months or years, not decades.
In Texas, someone who embezzles $10,000 over several years could serve a few months, years, or no time at all, Reamey said,”whereas if that same person had robbed another person at gunpoint, they’ll likely server a longer period.
“To leave a home, family, friends, all possessions except what you can cram in a suitcase … that’s not a very attractive option for most people,” especially the possibility of striking a deal with prosecutors exists, he said.
“Exactly what the sentence is will usually depend on a whole range of factors” that come up during sentencing hearings – whether the person has made restitution, has or does not have a criminal background, or took money for an “understandable reason.” Someone who stole money to care for a sick child, for instance, may receive more lenient treatment than someone who stole out of greed, he said.
According to Texas state law, embezzling more than $200,000, a first degree felony, comes with a sentence of five to 99 years in state prison.
But it remains to be seen what will happen to the accused embezzler Alicia Henderson, the accountant with a criminal record whom Centro San Antonio hired without a background check. The embezzlement was an elaborate effort that involved a fake auditor, website, and associated documents.
“If people expended as much time and thought and energy on doing things that are lawful, they might get the money they want without risking jail time,” Reamey said.