Small towns bring large risks

Expert: Trust creates victims

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Routt County Sheriff's Office

Terri Dawn Moody Fatka

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Routt County Sheriff's Office

Pamela Jean Williams

— Steamboat Springs' friendly Western charm and small-town atmosphere - frequently touted to attract tourists and homebuyers - also makes Steamboat businesses and customers more vulnerable to victimization by embezzlers, according to a local security consultant.

"In rural areas, we tend to be more trusting - both as customers of an institution and as employers," security consultant Rob Douglas said Saturday. "We really tend to look at one another as neighbors, which is good, but people who perform the types of crimes that are alleged here can often take advantage of that."

Two Steamboat bank tellers were arrested Thursday on suspicion of embezzling $1.2 million from Alpine Bank account holders during the past 2 1/2 years, an alleged theft that police say is the largest in recent memory.

Pamela Jean Williams, of Milner, and Terri Dawn Moody Fatka, who lives on Routt County Road 41A south of Steamboat Springs, were arrested at the Steamboat branch of Bank of the West, where they began working as tellers in January. The women, both 41, were charged with theft of more than $20,000, a Class 3 felony, and forgery, a Class 5 felony.

Williams and Fatka were released from Routt County Jail on Thursday night on $20,000 bond. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on both charges.

Both women are longtime Routt County residents, each having graduated from high school here. They are homeowners, married with children and well known in the community. At last year's second annual Steamboat Springs Relay For Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, Williams was Alpine Bank's team captain, Relay For Life co-chair Luther Bernston said.

There is no strong criminal profile for embezzlers - they are all over the map in terms of age and gender, Douglas said. What set Williams' and Fatka's alleged crimes apart are the sheer amount of money stolen and the fact that they allegedly collaborated on the thefts, Douglas said.

A former political commentator and private detective in Washington, D.C., Douglas is a Steamboat resident who now works with the financial services industry to prevent theft, inside and out.

Nothing close

Although Steamboat businesses have been targeted by employee theft in the past, $1.2 million is an unprecedented amount - not just for the Yampa Valley, but the entire banking industry and the country as a whole, Douglas said.

"It's a pretty big deal in little Steamboat," he said. "It's going to turn some heads."

Previous local cases do not approach the $1.2 million figure.

In 2005, a former hotel manager pled guilty to embezzling more than $30,000 while employed at the Steamboat Springs Hampton Inn and Suites. Angela Ellen Robinson, who cashed checks made out to former hotel employees who were kept on payroll, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 10 years probation. Robinson also was required to serve 100 hours of community service and repay the entire amount stolen.

In court, Robinson said she began embezzling in December 2004 to pay for Christmas gifts for hotel guests and to give unapproved raises and bonuses to hotel employees who she thought were underpaid. Robinson continued to give bonuses to herself and other managers from February through August 2005.

In 2002, an Oak Creek woman was arrested for draining $1,700 from a checking account at her workplace. The woman confessed to taking the money to pay off her bills.

Between 1997 and 1999, former employee Denise Martinez embezzled more than $40,000 from a Steamboat Springs High School activity fund. In 2000, she was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to repay the stolen funds to the school's insurance company.

A decade ago, an employee embezzled $125,000 from RE/MAX Steamboat - a debt the real estate agency needed nearly five years to pay off. The employee who stole the money had sole control over several checking accounts and handled all mail, which allowed her to cover up her theft for some time.

Checking accounts

In the ongoing investigation, police are looking for additional victims and exploring the possibility that Williams and Fatka also stole money from Bank of the West account holders. Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae has declined to comment on how the women allegedly stole the money or what led investigators to them.

Representatives of Alpine Bank and Bank of the West have declined to comment about the case.

Douglas said banking insiders have a number of tools at their disposal that make it easier for them to conceal their crimes.

Bank employees are familiar with the institution's security procedures and also can conceal thefts as bank transactions or make them appear as identity theft, to deflect suspicion outside the bank, he said.

"It's amazing how many people don't check their statement very carefully," Douglas said. "There is study after study that shows that those of us who are fanatical about banking online and checking our statements online are the least likely to be victimized, and the most likely to catch it."

But in a small community like Steamboat, a false sense of security can come naturally for bank customers, who often know bank employees on a first-name basis.

"I'm just amazed that this happened in Steamboat Springs," city resident Jan Serafy said Saturday. "You'd think your money would be safe in the bank, of all places.

"The first thing I did when I found out about the thefts was call Bank of the West and check on my accounts," she continued. "You just can't trust people anymore."

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

scooter 6 years, 9 months ago

$125,000.00 in 2002...$1,200,000.00 in 2008... It must be inflation (just kidding). These women can't be the only ones involved. Fatka and Williams are both married???? How is it that the husbands knew nothing about the cash? How is it that one of them is sporting a new Lexus (Reported by a blogger who knows one of them), and no one questions the where, and how it was acquired? If they are indeed both guilty of this: and married: then there are at least two other people that should be investigated, and probably charged as accomplices. Greed is an awful thing!

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 9 months ago

I would investigate the banks management back to the first theft, these girls did not do this alone, there is either complicentcy, or negligence, 1.2 mil in Steamboat they could have put a down payment on a house, but a local Lexus is a dead give away especially if it is a sedan.

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id04sp 6 years, 9 months ago

When you ask "why?" somebody in management did not notice, there can be lots of reason.

Cocaine can be a reason. Blackmail? Not saying it is, just that it can be. The managers might also have gotten some of the money in return for letting it happen.

More information will come out as time goes on. The FDIC will be all over this for some time to come, and you can expect more arrests.

$600,000 is not enough money to run away and retire on anymore. Not even $1.2 million.

When people get away with something like this for a while, they begin to feel empowered. This sense of empowerment is happening in more places than the banks. Lack of federal intereset and ANY law enforcement at all for a long time has led to this situation. Maybe that will change now.

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ColoradoNative 6 years, 9 months ago

Has Alpine bank or Bank of the West issued a statement? Do they know who's accounts were tapped into?

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80488mom 6 years, 9 months ago

Unless something comes up in the investigation there is no way I will believe Terry's husband had a clue about any of this. Paul is a very simple country boy and a talented carpenter. I wouldn't be so quick to blame the spouses. I'm sure he feels deceived in more ways than one.

Also...I hope he doesn't lose the house he built 9 years ago. He was building that house before his marriage to Terry. The guy is a hardworking regular kind of guy. I sincerely hope he isn't punished for having a foolish wife.

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steamboatsconscience 6 years, 9 months ago

this kind of theft goes on to the tune of billions every day in the stock, bond, and mortgage market on a daily basis without any action by regulatory agencies such as the FDIC and SEC. Unusual options activity is seen before nearly every corporate takeover, and rumors are circulated daily to manipulate the markets to the pigmen on Wall Street's advantage. Its called GREED folks and the SEC is AWOL when it comes to protecting the integrity of the markets for the average investor, the American public. Unless you have been living on another planet, you probably have noticed that our financial system is on the verge of collapse due to the greed of wealthy individuals, banks, mortgage lenders and corporations who saw immense profits to be made at the expense of average Americans, pension funds, foreign investors and anyone else who fell for their line of bull. Investment funds and banks around the world are either failing outright or writing off massive debts in the billions just to survive on a daily basis. If you dont think that it couldnt happen here, you better think again. As we can see greed is universal and its right here in the old Boat. If you want to make a difference then go here http://financialpetition.org/ sign the petition to Bring Transparency To Our Financial System one vote at a time.

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 9 months ago

SBC, down a bit in the market are ya.............. how bout them financial stocks, those divie cuts, yuck!!!

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steamboatsconscience 6 years, 9 months ago

condo making $ shorting the financials but yeah down in my long term stuff none of which are financials problem is they are taking everything down with them even good companies. like I've said on the other thread, http://www.steamboatpilot.com/forums/open/reader_forum/446/ all this govt stimulus interest cutting bull is only making the markets schitzo, and prolonging the inevitable recession. just get it over with so the market can make a bottom and then we can go higher. seems like there is too much govt meddling in the wrong place and not enough where they should be sticking their nose in, you know, where it smells the worst.

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steamboatsconscience 6 years, 9 months ago

on subject looking at the public county records it looks like Williams is the one who has bought some fairly high priced real estate during this time frame and most likely has the most debt. ringleader? JMHO as always.

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jim_kook 6 years, 9 months ago

20,000 bail seems light, I would think they could potentially have some cash to skip town with!

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jim_kook 6 years, 9 months ago

Seems like the money was either stolen from someone carefully selected b/c of vulnerability, or a little bit was taken from many. Either way, very calculated, not impulsive, and cold hearted. Ain't easy making money in this valley!

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JLM 6 years, 9 months ago

The idea that the opportunity to embezzle from a BANK is easier in a small town is just silly. What a bunch of bunk!

First, SBS is not freakin' Outer Mongolia --- the professionals, the residents and the visitors in SBS are world class. The idea that it is a "small" town from the perspective of reasonable and customary business practices is just plain goofy.

Heck, this is a very sophisticated real estate market, a very sophisticated food service market and a world class hospitality market. Sad to say we've even got a McDonald's and a WalMart.

Banks are very well regulated and fairly simply businesses --- heck, all they inventory is money.

Every bank teller must balance their drawer every single night. Every single transaction is scrutinized daily. Every single transaction.

Banks require employees to take their full vacation every year in order to ensure that any pattern of impropriety is discovered by a new set of eyes and ears.

Banks maintain, mail or e-mail or electronically post monthly account statements --- many available in real time on a 24/7 basis --- for every savings, checking, investment and credit/debit card account to its customers. The customers should constantly know where the bank thinks the customers' money is being held and how it is accounted for.

Bank financial statements are reviewed quarterly and audited annually. The bank is "examined" annually by the Federal bank examiners.

Most bank accounts are insured by the FDIC and the bank management is required to follow certain procedures to obtain and maintain that insurance. The recovery of these losses from the FDIC insurance policy will become an interesting issue in this case. The customers are covered but the bank is not.

The bank is responsible to its customers for the conduct of its employees as it relates to criminal or tortious or negligent acts. The bank should have a "fidelity bond" which covers the embezzlement of funds by bank employees. Most every bank has such protection for the benefit of its customers.

It will be interesting to learn about the implications of the FDIC insurance and the fidelity bond in this instance.

Bottom line: plain old fashioned greed manifested as theft by a couple of low lifes who should probably have been more closely monitored or never hired. The fact that this happened in SBS is totallly insignificant and is no reflection on the size of the city or the degree of sophistication of its business community.

Get a rope!

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jim_kook 6 years, 9 months ago

In defense of Stanford: A guy was elected president with a checkered past of drug and alcohol use. He was reborn with a clean slate to eat off with his silver spoon. 20 yrs ago a crime was committed by a man who was available for public scrutiny here for quite a while. Seems like his debt to society is settled, should he be tried twice for the same crime? Or is the best way to become innocent again to show your face sunday morning at a dog and pony show with wine and crackers? America has forgiven many when they have admitted their transgressions

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steamboatsconscience 6 years, 9 months ago

JLM If banks have such good checks and balances how did this occur http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/Dispatch/RogueTraderBlows7Billion.aspx Bank: Rogue trader blew $7 billion

Societe Generale of France announces a massive loss caused by an employee's fraudulent trading. The trader identified in reports is described as a loner and computer genius.

BTW FDIC only protects $100,000 per account, so if someone had more than $100k in a single account stolen, only the first $100K is protected.

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jnerney 6 years, 9 months ago

Small towns ARE dangerous, not only for these reasons, but because of the City Council. Make sure you pay them their dues, or WATCH OUT small business man, just trying to make a living.

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JLM 6 years, 9 months ago

Further to SBC, Societe Generale is an "investment" bank rather than a "commercial" bank --- big difference as it relates to oversight. And, SG's problems happened in Paris --- hardly a small town which was the point of the article and the focus of my comments.

You are right about the $100,000 as it relates to the FDIC insurance but the bank has unlimited liability as it relates to employee theft. The FDIC insurance would only kick in in this instance if the bank were to fail and the FDIC were to put it into receivership.

Nonetheless your warning about the $100,000 limitation is well made. Customers shoud be cautious to ensure that they do not have more than $100,000 in a single account. There is no prohibition about having more than one account at the same institution.

In any event, SBS is not more vulnerable because of its comparative size.

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stbsgirl 6 years, 9 months ago

80488mom- you 'Know' terri and her family. did you 'KNOW' that paul lived in that house with his own daughter for almost fifteen years before he built the addition, by himself, to include Terri and her two kids. Paul is indeed a hard working honest man and I KNOW that he had no idea this was happening. Terrri chose to do this on her own accord. going on trips, refurnishing their home, buying new cars... This is not a mistake. This was a choice. They got caught and they now must live with it. My good friend and their family was affected by this and I am embarrased to be so close to the issue. If they have to take the home that Paul and his daughter had for many years to pay for her mistake it will be a very sad day for me.

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bikegirl 6 years, 9 months ago

stbsgirl-I think folks who do know these families would agree with you.Terri and Pam are the criminals,not their families.

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scooter 6 years, 9 months ago

Unfortunately the IRS doesn't separate the husband's assets from the wife's. After the trial: if found guilty: I'm sure the feds will file tax evasion charges. The IRS will do their very best to take any martial assets. They always do! This is all very sad. Short term status, and greed has ruined two families.

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Dukebets 6 years, 9 months ago

Bikegirl, stbsgirl and 80488mom - Do you all honestly think their husbands did not know? C'mon! How do you hide $600k from your husband?

Pam lives in a trailer in Milner and drives a new Lexus.

My guess is that both husbands will go down for receiving stolen property.

Was this the nightly conversation at their house........"Terri, it's so nice you made the house payment with your $14/hour wages from the Bank. Your budgeting is impeccable." "I can't believe how far your $500/week check gets us."

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armchairqb 6 years, 9 months ago

What a terrific plan -- why didn't I think of that. Steal some money Let's start with 500 K buy Real Estate Said real estate triples in value ( steamboat in past 3 years)get caught, payback the five hundred you stole, sit in jail for 5 yrs. with good behavior or 10 yrs. When you get out you'll have made 100 K per year for doing nothing.

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bikegirl 6 years, 9 months ago

Dukebets-yeah, your probably right,as much as I think my hubby isn't paying attention,he actually is!

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thecondoguy1 6 years, 9 months ago

my wife knows me inside out, she knows whats going on with me before I do, and I think I know her pretty good too, if she nabbed 600 extra G's I think I would notice the canery feathers in her teeth................., not to mention the new Lexus, pretty hard to get a new Lexus by me........

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justathought 6 years, 9 months ago

condoguy, you mean you wouldn't fall for "it's the old dodge with a new paint job", not very trusting are you?

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bikegirl 6 years, 9 months ago

I wonder the the banks have not issued statements yet?

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godoggo 6 years, 9 months ago

re: Angela Robinson--what part of giving bonuses to others (b/c YOU thought they were underpaid) was okay--not to mention, putting cash in your own trough. Are we supposed to feel bad for you that you had an epiphany and thought you were helping out those underpaid. Give me a break. You're as bad as the 2 that got the 1.2 m....one might say even worse. Nice example for the kids in town..real nice.

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