OLDSMAR -- Dr. Stephen Grote says he has spent the past 2.5 years working for nothing. But the Oldsmar dentist said he didn't know it until August, when a trip to the ATM delivered the message "insufficient funds."
Thus began the start of a lengthy investigation and the discovery that Denise Wilson, Grote's office manager and best friend of 12 years, had embezzled more than $123,000, Pinellas County sheriff's officials said Wednesday.
"She would write in the recorder that she was paying a check to Florida Power but she was writing it to herself," said Grote, 53, who has practiced dentistry in Oldsmar for 20 years. "She forged my signature."
Denise Wilson, 48, of 6625 Fletch Road, Land O'Lakes, was charged Tuesday with grand theft, scheming to defraud and forging 87 checks. She was being held in the Pinellas County jail Wednesday night in lieu of $110,000 bail.
Denise Wilson forged the checks between March 2000 and July 2002 and deposited the funds into a SouthTrust Bank business account for Oral Reconstructive Techniques, a dental laboratory she and her husband ran out of Grote's office, authorities say. The largest check was for $4,000. Grote said he fired Wilson after discovering the missing money.
"She said that she didn't have an explanation on why she committed the theft, but that once she started she could not stop," sheriff's Detective John Spoor said.
Spoor said Denise Wilson would not say how she spent the money. But, Grote said, during the past two years, she and her husband, Mark Wilson, have remodeled their home, purchased three BMW motorcycles, a Chevrolet Avalanche and taken a European vacation.
Mark Wilson, who has denied knowing about the theft, told authorities he believed his wife was using money from an inheritance to pay for those luxuries. Spoor said he has referred information on Mark Wilson to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which will decide whether to file any other charges.
"At this time, the evidence that I have is all toward her because she did the stealing of the checks," Spoor said.
Reached at home Wednesday night, Mark Wilson declined to comment.
Grote said he has since hired an accountant to review his books. He acknowledges that he failed to have adequate safeguards in place against theft: He had the same person balancing his books and writing the checks.
While the theft has not affected his dental practice, unpaid bills have ruined his credit rating and left him feeling betrayed.
"We are heartbroken for the loss of a friendship," Grote said. "We thought it was a very sound friendship. It was a total devastation mentally."
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