Why Don’t Staff Come Forward With Concerns About Embezzlement?

We have noticed an interesting phenomenon in dentistry. When you look at all types of business in aggregate, “whistleblowers” are responsible for detecting 43% of embezzlement. However, when you narrow the focus to just dentistry, the number drops dramatically to under 10%.

One possibility is that other staff members are unaware that one of their colleagues is up to something. Our (admittedly non-scientific) experience suggests that this is often not the case. The more common reason that staff with concerns do not express those concerns is that they do not feel comfortable doing so.

Clearly, there is a significant opportunity to catch embezzlement more quickly than you otherwise would if the barriers preventing concerned staff members from approaching the owner of their practice were removed.

What are these barriers? There are probably several risks that someone perceives about bringing concerns forward:

  • Compared with many of the businesses contributing to the global 43% number (this comes from studies done by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners), dental practices are small workplaces. Having few co-workers creates the logical fear that the whistleblower will be easy for the thief to identify.
  • They often aren’t sure how receptive the practice owner will be to the possibility that something improper is happening. Particularly when the person suspected is the office manager, any prospective whistleblower must force the practice owner to choose between the whistleblower and a potentially long-term, valued employee.
  • What if I am wrong? Most people trying to decide whether to come forward in this situation are plagued with doubts and insecurity about the meaning of what they see often produces hesitation.
  • Misplaced loyalty. Often staff members feel loyalty to each other, and that loyalty is often stronger than the allegiance that some staff members have to the practice owner. We have also noticed that in many cases where embezzlement is taking place, the embezzler dribbles some largesse on other staff. This beneficence could include hours paid beyond what these employees actually work or other benefits beyond what the practice owner authorized. This kind of action tends to cement the staff member’s primary loyalty to his or her colleague.

What can be done to enhance the likelihood that a staff member with concerns will come forward? Many practice owners have given some thought to how they would respond if approached by a team member with concerns. Unfortunately, this thought process takes place inside the practice owner’s head. It is not discernable to an employee who is agonizing about bringing their suspicions to the practice owner.

The way to influence someone wrestling with whether to become a whistleblower is to provide them with assurance that their concerns will be handled properly. Since there is no way to identify someone facing this dilemma, this requires a standing policy on how someone bringing concerns forward will be handled. Normally this policy should be incorporated into a practice’s employee handbook and communicated with all employees.

What are the elements of a successful whistleblower policy? Here are some key commitments the policy should make:

  • To listen with an open mind.
  • To appreciate the risk someone took to come forward, and not punish a whistleblower, even if their suspicions are not well-founded.
  • To vigorously protect their identity. In most cases, the fact that there even is a whistleblower should be kept secret, and if there is “discovery,” it should be attributed to some other factor.
  • To investigate thoroughly and impartially. Committing to outside investigators is a great means of ensuring these things.
  • If the act of this person coming forward prevents financial loss to the practice, to pay a reward commensurate with the saving. (Offering such a reward is a great way to overcome misplaced loyalty.)

Creating a comfortable and secure environment where someone with information of tremendous value to you is motivated to deliver that information to you can have an immense payoff. We can help by providing our template whistleblower policy to any practice owner on request.

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Prosperident Webinar March 2021 – Honing Your Practice Owner Skills

Join your Prosperident hosts Amber Weber, Wendy Askins, and David Harris along with special guest Dr. Wayne Kerr as they discuss how to address the financial and managerial challenges associated with practice ownership.


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Arizona man sentenced to 16 years for DSO Ponzi scheme that cost victims more than $23M

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Kent Maerki

A Scottsdale man was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in a nationwide investment fraud scheme, authorities said Monday.

Kent Maerki, 78, made misrepresentations about his businesses to solicit investments, according to court documents.

Maerki, who owned Dental Support Plus Franchise, LLC, and Janus Spectrum, LLC, cost victims more than $23 million in losses and kept about $4 million of those funds as part of a conspiracy.

He mostly targeted elderly victims who cashed out on their 401(k) retirement plans and other retirement accounts to invest in companies founded by Maerki.

Their money was then being transferred to other companies controlled by other members of the conspiracy, according to court documents.

“This defendant made millions of dollars by deceiving innocent investors and perpetuating a scheme that defrauded vulnerable victims out of their hard-earned retirement funds,” Raj Parekh, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a press release.

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message that anyone in the financial services industry who lies, manipulates and steals their way to success acts at their own peril and risks substantial jail time if they do not operate their practices truthfully and with integrity.”

Content retrieved from https://ktar.com/story/4171815/scottsdale-man-receives-16-year-sentence-for-investment-fraud-scheme/

24 Months for Serial Embezzler who Stole From Dentist and then Mayor

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Roslyn Wedington, 51, was sentenced to two years in prison for tax fraud in connection with her work at the Maryland Center for Adult Training.

She asked for leniency, saying that she cheated on her taxes because she was overwhelmed by student loans and medical bills and trying to help friends and family. If spared prison time, she said, she could pay back her debt to society.

But federal prosecutors, calling her a “rare fraud recidivist,” noted that she had embezzled $800,000 from a previous job and made little effort to make restitution.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow noted Wedington’s ability to help people, but said that she had twice taken advantage of a position of authority.

“You have proven you cannot be trusted,” Chasanow said. “Frankly, I have no trouble imposing 24 months.”

Wedington was director of the Maryland Center for Adult Training, where Pugh served on the board of directors. Disgraced for Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh’s aide Gary Brown helped Wedington earn an off-the-books salary so she could avoid paying taxes and wage garnishment for years. She managed to avoid paying $120,000 to the government during that time.

Brown was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for his role in the MCAT scheme, as well as a fraud scheme related to Pugh’s Healthy Holly children’s books. Pugh, meanwhile, is serving a three-year sentence in an Alabama federal prison.

Wedington was convicted in 2004 for stealing $852,000 from a beloved Park Heights dentist while working as his secretary. She presented checks to Dr. Ernest Colvin to sign, then would add a thousand dollars to the amount. Colvin, who has since died, asked at the time for leniency for Wedington, and she was spared jail and asked to pay back $250,000. She made sporadic payments.

Part of Wedington’s salary from MCAT was garnished in 2013 to repay debts. To avoid such garnishments moving forward, she asked Brown to move her “off payroll” at MCAT and instead funnel money directly to her.

According to Wedington’s plea agreement, Brown directed the center’s payroll provider to pay him the amount of her salary — more than $80,000 a year — as an independent contractor. He then gave the money to Wedington in cash. Brown eventually gained authority to write checks from MCAT bank accounts, and started writing Wedington checks directly.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise told Chasanow that “fraud was how [Wedington] operated. That’s simply the state of affairs for her.”

Wedington’s attorney, Brandon Mead, said that his client hadn’t splurged on handbags and fancy cars, but was trying to get by.

“Ms. Wedington is one of those individuals who takes on a lot,” Mead told Chasanow.

Wedington apologized, but also blamed others.

That didn’t sit well with Chasanow.

“The fraud in this case was your instigation,” Chasanow said. “You didn’t want to pay taxes, you wanted to have money yourself. There might’ve been good things you did with it. That’s not the point.”

Content retrieved from: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/bs-md-ci-cr-pugh-wedington-sentencing-20210304-euyub2njczcpfnpshykzvdr7bm-story.html

Hiring Alert California

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Beatriz Ybarra Valdez

We encourage practices to look out for Beatriz Ybarra Valdez of Turlock, CA. We understand that she may have previously lived in Texas.

As of March 2021, Ms. Valdez is awaiting trial for felony embezzlement, grand larceny and prescription fraud in Stanislaus County, California. We have received reports that she continues to seek employment in dental practices in the Turlock area.

When hiring, please perform a proper background check to include speaking with all former employers for at least the past five years.

For more information on proper hiring practices, please click on the button below.

Forensic Hiring Webinar

Prosperident Pulse #104 March 2021

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March 2021
Webinars
Did you know that Prosperident puts on a free webinar every month?
Our next one takes place on March 25 at 8:00 pm Eastern / 5:00 Pacific.
This month’s title is sure to grab you – we will be talking about Honing Your Practice Owner Skills.
A successful multi-practice owner will join Prosperident’s hosts to discuss this vital topic.
Registration is available HERE, and PACE CE is offered.
Prefer Podcasts to Webinars?
Many people like audio-only content that can be listened to while driving or working out.
Prosperident sponsors The Practice Owner’s Podcast, where Prosperident team members and special guests discuss important topics to dental practice owners.
The podcast is available on all usual podcast outlets including Spotify, iTunes, and Google Podcast, or from our website HERE.
Clubhouse
Clubhouse is the fastest-growing social media platform right now. It features audio-only chat rooms.
Some of our team did our first Clubhouse gathering last week. The consensus was that we liked the forum’s interactive nature and that we plan to continue hosting discussions.
Our next one is scheduled for Thursday March 2, at 7:00 pm Eastern time.
If you are a Clubhouse member and want to check it out, the link is HERE.
Did you miss a previous newsletter? We archive them HERE.
Live Speaking Engagements are Back!
While Zoom has been invaluable when in-person presentations were not possible, words cannot express how excited we are to be able to book in-person events again. Here are some of the places we are speaking soon:
March 1 Greater Nashua Dental Society Nashua NH
April 16 East Texas Dental Society Bullard TX
June 11 Atlantic Virtual Dental Conference Halifax NS
September 9 Smile Source Exchange Las Vegas NV
2022
February 26 Chicago Midwinter Meeting Chicago IL
May 6 Ontario Dental Association Toronto ON
If you would like to book a Prosperident speaker for your event, please give us a call or use THIS LINK.
Something to Talk About…
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It’s been a long 12 months for dentists (and everybody else!)
Having to cope with reduced patient flow and learn a whole new way of practicing with reduced contact has been challenging.
I know that for many, it’s been a difficult year financially. When you overlay all of the other disruptions that have happened, such as school closures and people around us forced to work from home, it’s a wonder how any of us managed to maintain our sanity in the past year.
And yet we did. And to paraphrase my friend Kirk Behrendt, the guest on our January webinar, dentistry is currently facing a time of unprecedented opportunity. Some of the resource constraints that have throttled practices are about to vanish. For example, staff shortages have plagued dental practices for the last five years. With the workplace displacement taking place, there is now a one-time opportunity to upgrade your staff.
Also, there a commercial real estate glut is looming as companies reduce their footprint because of people working from home. Because many practices have time remaining on leases, this may take longer to percolate through to the dental economy, but we are already hearing of dentists negotiating rent reductions from landlords.
I am excited to be booking again for in-person speaking events. While 100 or more flights per year can be a grind, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job has been meeting many of you face to face, and I so look forward to getting back to that.
Yours truly,
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David Harris
We are Prosperident, Dentistry’s Embezzlement Experts
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Webinar February 2021 – Easy Steps to Your Best New Hire Ever

Join your Prosperident hosts Amber Weber, Wendy Askins and David Harris along with special guest Penny Reed as they discuss how to find that elusive ideal employee.

If you want to check out other webinars that we have done, they are all available here – https://www.prosperident.com/prosperident-webinar-series/. Or 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. You can subscribe using one of the buttons below.

Prosperident Pulse #103 February 2021

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Newsletter February 2021
Positivity
In January, we invited one of my favorite people, Kirk Behrendt, to join our monthly webinar as a guest presenter.
If you know Kirk, you know that he combines phenomenal energy with boundless optimism. And he certainly didn’t disappoint us. The theme of our January webinar was Hello, 2021! Full Steam Ahead. To a packed (online) house, Kirk made a statement that probably surprised many. He stated that dentistry is in a time of unprecedented opportunity for those who recognize how to take advantage of it. (You can check out Kirk’s remarks and gain some excellent takeaways from Kirk and the Prosperident team by watching the webinar, which can be found HERE.)
The past year’s events have made it easy to dwell on the punches that dentistry has taken. Empty chairs, closed practices, and increased overhead from PPE costs have become the norm.
While dentistry has been unquestionably battered and bruised, thankfully, it is still standing. A study conducted by the ADA in December showed that the average practice had recovered sufficiently to enjoy 78% of its pre-Covid patient volume. Since this is an average, it is safe to conclude that some dental practices are doing considerably better than this, whereas some are not. I spoke with a dentist earlier this week who said that his practice’s volume is 30% higher than pre-Covid levels.
What are the factors that differentiate the wildly successful dentists from those struggling to survive? That is exactly what our winter webinar series is exploring.
The theme of practice improvement will continue in our next webinar, which happens on February 18 at 8:00 pm Eastern. Our topic is Easy Steps for Your Best New Hire Ever! We are excited to welcome a special guest with fantastic ideas on this subject. Penny Reed, a shining light in dental consulting for many years, will be joining us.
In a 2020 webinar, we covered how to avoid the nasty “serial embezzlers” who skirt the vetting processes of most practices. This time we will examine a different side of the hiring problem, how to find and hire those elusive people who can help your practice reach its potential.
Our March offering will also grab the interest of many. We are very excited about our March 25 topic, Honing Your Practice Owner Skills.
My on-camera colleagues Wendy Askins and Amber Weber, our behind-the-scenes crew, and this month’s special guest Penny Reed all look forward to welcoming you into our audience in a few weeks. A registration link is below my picture.
And in case you need more incentive to sign up, we will draw 20 names to receive free copies of my book, Dental Embezzlement; The Art of Theft and the Science of Control, from all new registrants who enter “book offer” in the Remarks box on the registration form and register by February 15.
Yours truly,
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David Harris
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Designing Your Post Covid Practice
Join us for our Winter 2021 webinar series. For information and registration, please click HERE.
We are looking forward to “seeing” you on February 18 at 8:00 pm Eastern!
Want to check out one of our previous webinars? You can find them HERE.
Prosperident Inc. 888-398-2327 www.dentalembezzlement.com
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Webinar January 21, 2021 – Hello, 2021! Full Steam Ahead

Your hosts Amber Weber, David Harris and Wendy Askins welcome special guest presenter Kirk Behrendt. We discuss steps and strategies to make 2021 your best year ever.

If you want to check out other webinars that we have done, they are all available here – https://www.prosperident.com/prosperident-webinar-series/

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.

Embezzler’s Lawyer – Thief Would not Have Been Charged if She Stole from a Dentist Instead of the County

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Melissa K. Brennen

So this is how the rest of the world perceives the dental profession. We do not often report on embezzlement taking place outside of dentistry, but the attorney’s comments (bolded below) are noteworthy.


LISBON, OH — Melissa K. Brennen, the longtime employee of the county engineer’s office caught stealing tax map money, was sentenced to six months in prison Monday morning by county Common Pleas Court Judge Megan Bickerton.

Brennen, state Route 7, Columbiana, pleaded guilty in September to theft in office, a fourth-degree felony, after $2,940 was found to be missing from deposits made through the office between May 1 and Nov. 8 in 2019.

Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Weikart had asked for a nine-month prison term.

Brennen’s defense attorney, Edward J. Hartwig, argued she led a law-abiding life for more than 40 years and has already been punished, not just with the loss of her job at the county engineer’s office, but also with the loss of another job after a background check was completed.

Hartwig further pointed out that if she had a similar secretarial job in any office that was not a public office, such as a dental office, she would not be charged with theft in office at all.

He provided the court with several letters supporting her and detailing Brennen’s volunteer work.

Brennen’s mother, Cheryl Brennen, told Bickerton her daughter has never been in any trouble her entire life and has been a big part of the family and a volunteer.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Brennen said prior to sentencing. “I apologize to anyone who I have hurt.”

But Bickerton pointed out it was not that Brennen’s conscious got the best of her and she stopped on her own, nor did it appear that she needed the money, which came from the residents of the county.

Additionally, Bickerton said there are questions about whether the thefts were actually happening prior to the dates known. According to Bickerton, there was no recommendation from the engineer’s office about the sentencing of Brennen.

Bickerton said the decision to sentence Brennen to prison was not an easy one, because she believes the people who said Brennen is a good person.

“You are a good person,” Bickerton said, “but you made a mistake.”

Brennen was ordered to pay restitution and the attorneys were both asked to file briefs about whether Brennen should be ordered to pay for the special audit which had to be conducted after the money was found missing.

Have questions or concerns? Call us toll-free at 888-398-2327 or click the button below.

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Content retrieved from: https://www.salemnews.net/news/local-news/2021/01/ex-employee-of-engineer-gets-prison-for-office-theft/