Brawley man pleads guilty to stealing more than $250,000 from local farm

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Claude Theodore Riley. Courtesy Photo.

SAN DIEGO — Former bookkeeper Claude Theodore Riley pleaded guilty September 11, 2017 to wire fraud and making a false tax return in a five-year scheme stealing from his employer, a local farm. Riley stole approximately $272,984.00 from his employer, filed fraudulent tax returns, and failed to file required employment tax returns resulting in a $1.5-million-dollar tax lien against the farm, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California.

Riley served as the farm’s bookkeeper from 2010 to 2015, overseeing the farm’s entire annual budget. As the bookkeeper, Riley had access to the farm’s bank accounts, paychecks, and bookkeeping records. Riley forged certain IRS documents to hide his embezzlement from the employer. For his scheme, Riley made 148 transactions out of the employer’s bank account, fictitiously entered various vendors to be paid into the bookkeeping records, and generated checks made payable to himself.

“Defendant egregiously abused a sensitive position of trust when he stole more than $272,000 from an Imperial Valley farm and filed fraudulent tax returns,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson. “I commend our federal and local law enforcement partners’ diligent efforts to obtain justice for this local farm, which is one of many that serve as the economic backbone of Imperial Valley.”

“Spanning more than five years, Mr. Riley stole funds by issuing unauthorized checks from his employer’s bank account and depositing them to his personal bank account,” stated R. Damon Rowe, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation. “Our office will vigorously investigate individuals who line their pockets with fraudulently obtained funds and then file fraudulent tax returns.”

“The FBI is committed to uncovering fraud schemes that affect our community,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum. “The financial stability of Imperial Valley’s agricultural businesses are essential to the local economy. Crimes that undercut the hard work of our Valley’s farming industry will not be tolerated.”

“This case is a great example of how local and federal law enforcement agencies can work together to protect and serve the community,” said Brawley Police Department Interim Chief of Police Kelly L. Brown. “The Brawley Police Department thanks the Federal Bureau of Investigations for their assistance.”

The farming industry is an important source of Imperial Valley’s economy and producer of agriculture for the nation. Imperial Valley is one of California’s top producers of agriculture, which generates income for local families in the Southern District of California.

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Wire Fraud – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1343

Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Filing a False Tax Return – Title 26, U.S.C., Section 7206(1)

Maximum penalty: 3 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

INVESTIGATING AGENCIES

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Imperial County Resident Agency

Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation

Brawley Police Department

2 COMMENTS

  1. Being in the banking industry for many years in Imperial Valley I can’t begin to tell you how many times this has happened. When you give complete control over finance with no oversight you are asking for someone to steal. By implementing controls. By establishing internal audits you are keeping your employees honest. Temptation takes down even the best people. Business owners are not just trusting it seems they are just too lazy to deal with what they think is a waste of time. When will they wake up and realize every thing they have worked so hard for will be gone because they had no checks and balances.

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