MN Woman Charged With Embezzling $395k from Practice; Cites Financial Difficulties. Total Suspected $800k.

Shirley Marie Dunn

A onetime office manager for an Edina dental practice stole nearly $400,000 from her employer and possibly much more for lavish out of town trips, superstar concerts, her children’s school fees and other items, according to charges filed Monday and other court records.

Shirley M. Dunn, 45, of Shakopee, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with seven counts of felony theft by swindle in connection with the roughly $395,000 she stole from York Dental from 2015 until she was fired in the fall of 2018.

However, a search warrant affidavit listing a vast and varied array of purchases reveals that police suspect her thievery began years earlier and totaled somewhere north of $800,000.

Dunn was charged by summons and has a court appearance scheduled for Aug. 11. Dunn said she was unaware that charges were filed and declined to comment about the allegations.

The search warrant affidavit filed five months after she was fired alleged that “Dunn conducted approximately $175,000 in unauthorized transactions on her company-issued credit card and found approximately $680,000 in missing deposits.”

The affidavit pointed to many suspicious purchases Dunn made dating back to 2012 that police connected to postings on her Facebook page. They include:

• Trips with friends to the Sanctuary Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

• A limo ride for three girls heading to a Justin Bieber concert.

• Attendance at a Luke Bryan concert in Minneapolis.

• A visit to Los Angeles and “Endless Mimosas and brunch,” according to a comment accompanying a photo on her Facebook page.

“Dunn was living well beyond her means, which is a motive for why she was embezzling money from York Dental and making unauthorized transactions on the company credit card,” the affidavit read.

The affidavit also revealed $16,000 spent on beauty supplies, about $2,600 for iTunes and roughly $26,000 at clothing retailers.

According to the criminal complaint:

Dunn joined York Dental as office manager for its main Edina location and Shakopee clinic, and was responsible for much of the business’ accounting responsibilities.

One of York Dental’s owners determined that Dunn had been using a business credit card for personal uses. She admitted to the misuse and was fired in October 2018.

The auditor discovered that “most of the cash received by the practice had not been deposited and that the dental practice sustained a significant loss,” the charges read.

Authorities also reviewed records for Dunn’s business credit card, and York Dental identified many unauthorized charges. They were for flights for her and her boyfriend, dry cleaning, dining and her children’s school fees.

Her Amazon account also showed purchases for cosmetics, jewelry, clothing, home decor and other items “not related to the dental practice,” the charges continued.

The criminal complaint also said that Dunn “had financial difficulties,” which the charging document did not address in specificity.

At the time the charges were filed, Dunn was working as an office manager for an unspecified landscape company.

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Delegation versus Abdication

Delegation is essential to the financial well-being of a practice.  The existence of well-trained clinical and administrative staff allows a practice’s doctors to focus on their unique (and high value) competencies.

The concept of clinical delegation is well-understood by dentists and is something first encountered in dental school.

However, the delegation of the administrative functions in a practice is normally encountered much later when a dentist becomes a practice owner, and it happens without the dentist having the benefit of any training. 

Compounding the lack of training on how to delegate administrative responsibilities effectively is the fact that most dentists judge themselves by how their practice performs clinically and take no comparable pleasure from having a practice that is smoothly administered.

The combination of lack of training and low level of interest often create a “perfect storm” where dentists unconsciously fall into the trap of turning delegation, which is desirable and beneficial, into abdication, which can be dangerous.

So what is the difference between these two concepts? It can be summarized as follows:

Delegation is the devolution of tasks or responsibilities, but with accountability to the practice owner. Abdication is the offloading of responsibility but with no corresponding answerability.

In a clinical setting, accountability is clearly understood by dentists. You have ownership of, for example, a poor impression taken by a dental assistant, and you have a clear responsibility to ensure that clinical staff members have suitable training in CPR to be prepared to handle medical emergencies.

Clinical accountability is aided by the regulated nature of dental assisting and dental hygiene. Members of these professions are trained, tested, certified, and normally required to maintain their competency through continuing education. Also, the dentist’s knowledge of the work carried on by clinical team members is normally high.

In contrast, there is no required certification to be a receptionist, financial coordinator, or office manager. Most people in these positions have received their training on the job with you or while working at another dental practice. While there is considerable information and training available to people in administrative positions, it isn’t mandatory or comprehensive. And to make matters worse, unlike the clinical situation, the doctor is usually less knowledgeable about what goes on in the administration of his or her practice than the people who hold jobs in that area.

It’s a recipe for disaster. You are asked to oversee people who often have little formal training in their jobs without your having the benefit of either detailed knowledge or any idea of how to exercise oversight. Furthermore, if you are like most dentists, keeping an eye on your front desk isn’t a responsibility that you enjoy in any case. So it doesn’t take much to convince you just to step away from what goes on there (i.e., abdication).

So what should a dentist do to increase accountability? Here are some ideas:

  1. Remember that accountability is more than an abstract concept. There is a tendency to believe that, because you sign someone’s paycheck, they are accountable to you. In an abstract sense, this is true, but you derive no benefit from this relationship unless it translates into actual oversight.
  2. Effective oversight requires knowledge. Administration is not a cruel joke that the world has played on the dental profession; it is a vital link in the chain between the treatment of patients and your financial well-being. So learn to do the basics in your software — enter treatment, print reports, and process a payment. Learn to do the key functions of your office manager in his or her absence. Learn what the most important reports from your practice management software are and what they mean.
  3. Be the boss. Taking charge does not mean that you need to be “bossy,” but it does require you to make some rules and stick to them. Here are three rules that every practice should have:
    • Documentation of activity. Every administrative person needs to document what they do and how they do it. If they become ill, retire, or move away, their “institutional knowledge” shouldn’t disappear with them. This approach requires a detailed job description (not the kind used when hiring) plus some backup information (references to the manual for your practice management software, etc.) These “position guidebooks” should be consolidated with each of you and your office manager keeping a copy.
    • Cross-training — this is closely aligned with the previous point and is intended to ensure that your practice doesn’t grind to a halt because of the unplanned absence of one person. You should be one of the people cross-trained in your office manager’s duties.
    • Mandatory vacations for all staff. The best way to test your cross-training is to put it to use. So make every employee take at least two consecutive weeks off each year when the office is functioning (times when the office is completely shut down do not count — the real point is to have someone else filling in for the employee). In addition to ensuring a distribution of your institutional knowledge, having other people temporarily fill administrative jobs provides one of the best chances of catching embezzlement.
  4. Trust, but verify. There are a few things that every practice owner needs to do to ensure that their practice records have integrity:
    • First, you need to review day-end information from your practice every day to ensure that your work was accurately recorded and to be alert for suspicious transactions.
    • Verify that the correct amount of money was deposited in your bank account. This verification should include both the “physical” deposit (cash and checks) and amounts deposited electronically. Normally, this necessitates waiting a few days for delayed amounts such as credit card payments to reach your bank. Verification should be done via electronic banking; a deposit slip is not sufficient.
    • It is important to ensure that your daily reports “articulate” with month-end reports. This articulation is to ensure that there is no after-hours activity in your software that is hidden from you. We have developed a spreadsheet that does the heavy lifting for you.

While the process of managing the activities of your practice’s front-office staff can seem daunting at first, the basic steps outlined here will give you a great start.

We offer a terrific product called Office Protection System helps practice owners establish accountability. Please reach out to us if you would like to learn more.

Oregon Office Manager Charged with Embezzling $140k

Shannon Wilson

An office manager at a Salem dentist’s office was charged with embezzling more than $140,000 over seven years from the business.

Shannon Raye Wilson, 42, of Amity, was arrested by Salem police detectives July 2 for the crimes of aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and first-degree aggravated theft, according to Lt. Treven Upkes with the Salem Police Department. 

Using her position as office manager at the clinic of Margaret Giruc D.D.S. in Salem, Wilson allegedly embezzled company funds between 2013 and 2020, Upkes said. Officials said there is no indication at this time that Wilson used any patient information to “facilitate her criminal activity.”

The Marion County District Attorney’s office is still reviewing the case, according to Deputy District Attorney Amy Queen.

According to a probable cause statement, on April 3, Ofc. Roger Hibbeler took a report from the dentist’s business owner who said an employee obtained an “unauthorized line of credit” and used it to embezzle at least $146,107 belonging to the business. 

The suspect was in charge of payroll and business finances including paying bills with the company credit card. She had full access to company accounts and records, and was also in charge of bookkeeping. 

The victim told police she did not notice anything was wrong until she was forced to close the dentist’s office temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In reviewing finances, she noticed the company card had an outstanding balance of $18,000. She also discovered that a second “unauthorized” credit card issued to the dentist’s office was opened using the suspect’s home as a billing address. 

The card had been active as early as March 2013 and had numerous transactions for restaurants, bars, hotels, retails stores, airline tickets, subscriptions, groceries and car rentals.

The victim said business profits from her bank account were being used to pay the credit card balances. 

Wilson was taken lodged at the Marion County Jail July 2 and released on recognizance the same day. If charges are filed by the district attorney’s office, Wilson’s arraignment is scheduled at 9 a.m. Aug. 3.

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Prosperident Webinar Series July 15 2020- Steal and Conceal; What Serial Embezzlers Can Teach Us

See Prosperident’s presentation team discuss “serial embezzlers” (people who embezzle from more than one practice) to see what lessons can be gleaned from them.

If you prefer to receive content in podcast format, Prosperident’s The Dental Practice Owner’s Podcast is now available on Spotify, TuneIn and iHeart Radio and other podcast outlets. You can subscribe using one of the buttons below.

Two Dental Assistants from the Same Practice Charged with Defrauding Insurance

Alma Almendariz

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The state Department of Insurance says a second dental assistant from the same office has been charged with insurance fraud, identity theft and grand theft after allegedly falsifying insurance claims.

Alma Almendariz, 35, was booked Wednesday into Kern County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday on 67 felonies, according to the department and court website. She’s held on $690,000 bail.

Almendariz used insider knowledge to submit fraudulent insurance claims to AFLAC for procedures that were not performed, according to a Department of Insurance release. She is accused of submitting 23 fraudulent claims for her and her son and receiving $10,165 from AFLAC.

Maria Uranday

Maria Uranday, who worked at the same dental office as Almendariz, pleaded not guilty in June to similar charges and is next due in court in August. The dental office was not named in the news release.

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Prosperident Pulse #96 July 2020

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Dental Prosperident Pulse from Prosperident
Issue #96 — July 2020
Webinars Are Back!
We promised a return of our wildly popular webinar series return this month.
And we meant it! Wendy, Amber and David will be back on July 15 at 8:00 pm Eastern Time (5:00 pm Pacific).
And the topic is a humdinger — Steal and Conceal; What Serial Embezzlers Can Teach Us. The gang is going deep into our case files to show you some of the most voracious embezzlers we have encountered.
To register click HERE. If you want to catch up on our previous webinars (we had some great topics like Forensic Hiring and Reconcile or Reckless), you can access them at THIS LINK.
CE credit through PACE is available.
We look forward to having you back in our audience!
Hear From an Embezzlement Victim
Several of our clients generously agreed to be interviewed about their experience being embezzled. Here is part of Amber Weber’s interview with Dr. Dominique Backus, where Dominique talks about the emotions she experienced.
Did you miss a previous newsletter? We archive them HERE.
The Danger of “References”
A client of ours recently asked us this question:

I have an interviewee and I would like to talk to her past employers. She’s been at a local restaurant for the last 4 years, but it closed in April.
What would you recommend to do to check employment?
She listed 3 references from the restaurant with their contact info. Would you recommend to contact them?

Our client is someone who makes every effort to run his practice properly, and his dilemma forces us to deal with a seminal issue in background checking – who should we be speaking with?
We often have dentists say that they ask for “references” or that they check “references.” Normally they are doing this to show that they are careful about who they hire.
Something to Talk About…
I’m thrilled that, after a two-month hiatus, I will be doing another webinar with my delightful co-hosts, Amber Weber and Wendy Askins.
Doing webinars was Amber’s idea, when COVID provided dentists with a dollop of unexpected downtime. Our Power Hours were successful beyond what we ever imagined, with audience size approaching 3,000 people.
After six episodes in the next six weeks, it was time for us to take a break. There are a lot of hours that go into preparing for a webinar, and doing it weekly is definitely a challenge. At a time when the priority of many dentists was getting back to work and adjusting to practicing in the COVID era, we signed off with a promise to make a return in July.
So it’s July, and our preparations for our July 15 webinar are moving along nicely. We have a topic that I am really excited about, and as usual we will be offering lots of useful pearls for our audience. You can register using THIS LINK, and we look forward to “seeing” you in a couple of weeks.
David Harris
We are Prosperident, Dentistry’s Embezzlement Experts