Sgt. Eric Hobson
Sgt. Eric Hobson knew it was getting bad out there when he went to a business to arrest a suspected embezzler and the company owner asked him to wait until she finished payroll. Evidently, she was the only one who knew how to complete the task. The embezzler was later convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her employer.
“That was a first for me,” the head of the Lexington Division of Police’s financial crimes unit said. “Every other one has been, ‘Get them out of the office. Take them — throw them under the jail.’ It’s personal.”
Often the office theft that he and his four-person staff investigate is very personal and painful, as a trusted employee has taken the business for sums in the high six-figures.
“Over the last few months, the amount has ranged from $20,000 to $800,000,” Hobson said regarding how much embezzlers have been able to steal before their financial house of cards has fallen.
Keeping it from happening
“Basic pre-employment background checks are a good business practice for companies big or small. Some smaller companies won’t do it for a cost reason. They’ll just take a referral … and [those are] the ones that will end up finding out their employee already has a criminal past doing this,” he said.
Even if someone has cleared a background check, Hobson said employers he deals with often have allowed the theft to happen, because of weak protocol or blind faith.
“They think it is the bookkeeping and not the bookkeeper,” he said.
“If a company is allowing one person in the office to receive invoices [and] write a check out, and theirs is the only signature needed before mailing it out, that’s an issue. One of the CEOs or owners of the company should be the one signing the checks,” Hobson said.
How to spot an embezzler
During Hobson’s more than five years investigating these crimes, patterns have emerged about an embezzler’s behavior.
Often someone who is stealing from the company won’t go on vacation, Hobson said. But what may seem like a dedicated employee is really just someone wanting to keep the books out of anyone else’s hands, as someone else might discover the subterfuge.
In the same vein, those in the midst of an embezzlement scheme will often take their work home with them, become overly defensive of their workspace or personal space in the office, and may even ask for their own secluded area to work, claiming too many distractions elsewhere.
Why they do it
Their actions while embezzling are usually similar, and most thieves steal for similar reasons as well, Hobson said.
“In what we see, people start embezzling for a few reasons,” Hobson said, “substance abuse, an addiction they’re feeding, a gambling addiction and living beyond their means.”
But in the end, the pain caused to the employer isn’t worth it to them, regardless of the penalty.
“Never have I seen an embezzler get rich,” the police sergeant said. “They spend the money when they get it.”
About Sgt. Eric Hobson
Title: Sergeant - Financial Crimes Unit
Previous: 12 years with Lexington Division of Police as a patrol officer, instructor for the Lexington Police Training Academy and a patrol supervisor.
Education: Bachelor’s in police administration from EKU, and a graduate of Paul L. Dunbar High School in Lexington.