A former office manager of a small dental practice in Mason City, Iowa, who stole nearly $500,000 from her employer over the course of almost a decade, was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Cedar Rapids.
Pamela Harris, age 58, from Mason City, Iowa, was convicted of Wire Fraud. In a plea agreement, Harris admitted she was a trusted employee of the dental practice for approximately 21 years, from about 1993 until 2014. During this time, she had sole responsibility for the practice’s day-to-day finances. She was fired in 2014 after her fraud was discovered.
The two dentists that formed the practice authorized the creation of rubber stamps bearing their signatures to pay for legitimate expenses. However, the dentists always required Harris to obtain authorization before using the rubber stamps on a check to pay a bill. At no time did the dentists authorize Harris to create checks and use their rubber signature stamps to pay for her personal expenses without their knowledge.
From at least July 2005, and continuing through about May 2014, Harris defrauded the dentists and their practice. Harris used the rubber signature stamps of the dentists without their authorization to create forged checks drawn on the practice’s bank account. Harris forged checks made payable either to herself or to others, including credit card companies to pay for Harris’ personal expenses. Harris also maintained and used various credit card accounts she had opened in the name of the dental practice to pay for personal expenses without the authorization of the dentists.
For example, Harris admitted that, in May 2012, she forged a check bearing the signatures of the dentists to pay for a $4,000 white plastic fence at her home. In total, Harris admitted to stealing at least $491,254.86 from the dentists and their practice.
Harris was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Reade found Harris’s crime was “a very serious offense” and stressed a number of aggravating factors, including that Harris’s scheme was sophisticated and caused the dentists such a substantial financial hardship that they needed to take out lines of credit. Judge Reade found defendant had “spit in the eye” of her employers. During the hearing, Judge Reade also noted that Harris, through a civil attorney, had offered to repay approximately $100,000 of the stolen money, but only if the dentists would give Harris a good letter of recommendation for another job. The evidence at the hearing showed that the civil attorney wrote a letter stating, “this probably sounds outrageous to ask for a letter but if your client’s [sic] want more money, I think this is the only way.” The dentists declined the offer.
Harris was sentenced to 41 months’ imprisonment. A special assessment of $100 was imposed, and she was ordered to make $491,254.86 in restitution to the dentists. With respect to restitution, Harris will be given credit for approximately $150,000 that she deposited with the Clerk of Court before the conclusion of her sentencing hearing. She must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
Harris was released on the bond previously set and is to surrender to the United States Marshal on May 8, 2017, at 10 a.m., in Cedar Rapids, pending her designation to a Bureau of Prisons facility.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tim Vavricek and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Mason City Police Department.
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