by Brian Jones
Former Packet employee Aimee Shaw was bound over to the grand jury following a December 2 preliminary hearing in Columbus Municipal Court. Shaw is accused of embezzling over $20,000 from the Packet during her five years of employment.
Shaw was arrested September 18.
Former Packet owner and editor Roger Larsen took the stand and accused Shaw of taking money out of the in-house cash box, failing to make bank deposits and trading services for advertising. [Columbus Police Department Investigator Raymond Hackler was sworn in, but said that all of the information he had was provided to him by Mr. Larsen. Rather than have two sets of duplicate testimony, Mr. Larsen was the sole prosecution witness. — Brian Jones]
Larsen testified that one of Shaw’s duties was to take in and deposit money.
“I became suspicious when I realized that there had been no cash deposits in 13 months,” Larsen said. “[Shaw] was the one who took in the cash.”
“The vast majority of your business is cash sales?” asked Prosecutor Tim Hudson.
“Yes,” Larsen said. “The money from the rack sales is handled differently. She handled the money that came in the door.”
“Your other source of income is advertising?” Hudson asked.
“Yes,” Larsen said. “Some of our advertisers pay in cash, and that cash is supposed to be written down in the receipt book. There was a 13-month period in which we both wrote receipts in the receipt book, but the money was never deposited in the bank. There was a period before that where the cash deposits were hit or miss. The deposit records from the bank did not match what we had in the receipt books.”
“And you kept petty cash in the office?” Hudson asked.
“Yes,” Larsen said. “It was an amateurish system. We just kept a cash box.”
Larsen alleged that Shaw had not made cash deposits in over a year.
“I didn’t look at the books for a long time,” Larsen said. “When I did, I noticed that there hadn’t been a cash deposit in 13 months. Prior to that there were two to three months where there hadn’t been any deposits. I had never gone to the receipt book to look at what we were bringing in. When I asked her about it, she said that she was using the cash in the cash box to make up shortages from the carriers.
“When we were getting ready to sell the paper, I had my bookkeeper add up what was in the receipt books and compare it to the deposits,” Larsen said. “There was $22,167 missing.”
“Did you ask her why she was using the cash to balance out the carriers?” Hudson asked.
“I wasn’t sure what she meant,” Larsen said, “but my suspicions were well aroused by then. I had previously had a carrier who stole $4,600 in six months, and she didn’t bring that to my attention, either. Nobody was watching her figures.”
Larsen said Shaw confessed to him that she stole the money.
“She admitted that she was taking the money for her own use, but she told me she had no idea that it was so much,” Larsen said. “When I talked to her about it I said she had taken ‘tens of thousands’ of dollars, but we didn’t have a figure then. We didn’t get the figure until the paper was being sold.”
“Did other people in the office collect money?” Hudson asked.
“Just her and me,” Larsen said. “Carriers were handled separately.”
Eupora-based defense attorney George Mitchell questioned Larsen closely about how he arrived at the $22,167 figure, as well as the sale of the paper. He also attempted to paint Larsen as forgetful, alleging that Larsen frequently left the Packet office unlocked.
“How long did [Shaw] work for you?” Mitchell asked.
“Five years,” Larsen said.
“During that time, did you give her raises and bonuses?”
“Didn’t she work 2.5 days in the office and 2.5 days at home?” Mitchell asked.
“She worked about 32 hours a week,” Larsen said. “She was usually in the office about 2.5 days. She pretty much tracked her own hours.”
“In your affidavit, did you tell the police that she had taken $22,167 in money and by trading ads for service,” Mitchell asked.
“She took the money and she traded for ads,” Larsen said. “The $22,167 was the discrepancy between the receipt books and the deposits. She took goods and services beyond that. We’re still uncovering the trades � people are coming in and telling us what she did.”
Larsen said that he used accountant Janice Burris to handle his bookkeeping, but that “we sent Burris information every month and she just entered it in.”
“Isn’t it true that [Shaw] wasn’t the only one with access to the cash box?” Mitchell asked. “Didn’t you also pay the carriers out of the box, too?”
“We have four carriers,” Larsen said. “There were occasions where if we had a big paper we’d give them $10 extra. I think I did that maybe 12 times, and sometimes I’d take it out of the cash box and sometimes I’d take it out of my own pocket. There was also a carrier that ran a very short route, and sometimes I’d pay him in cash or cash his check for him out of the cash box. I can’t say all the money went into her pocket.”
“Did other employees have access to the cash box?” Mitchell asked.
“Nobody else had a key,” Larsen said.
“Did you ever leave the door unlocked?” Mitchell asked.
“It’s conceivable that I did, just like you’ve probably walked off and left your car unlocked,” Larsen said. “But if so, it would have been very rare.”
“Is it possible that someone could have come in the office while you were asleep in the back room?” Mitchell asked.
“It’s conceivable,” Larsen said.
“Did [Shaw] tell you that there was no way what she took amounted to even $1,000?” Mitchell asked.
“That’s not what I recall,” Larsen said.
“Haven’t you written that your memory was bad since your bicycle accident?” Mitchell asked. “Do you remember when the accident was?”
“Well, when was it? Do you remember when it was?” Larsen cracked, drawing chuckles from the audience. “I made a remark to Mark Miley, a sheriff’s deputy who had a head injury about the same time I did, that the only affect I could see on my memory was that sometimes I couldn’t remember road names.”
“Isn’t it true that sometimes you couldn’t remember where you’d put the money from the carriers and would call her to ask?” Mitchell said.
“It happened a couple of times,” Larsen said.
“Wasn’t there a time when you found the money in the trash after your pets knocked it in there?” Mitchell asked.
“That happened once, and I’m the one who put it there, not the dogs,” Larsen said. “I had laid the money down and then put other stuff on top of it, and I’m the one who mistakenly put it in the trash.”
Larsen also testified that sometimes small amounts would be paid out of the cash box.
“We’d use the money in the box for office supplies sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes we’d use small amounts over the years to pay people for photos that they brought in.”
“Didn’t you pay Rick Mason out of the cash box for three weeks?” Mitchell asked.
“He is the carrier I mentioned before,” Larsen said. “He had a $50 route. Sometimes I’d cash his check for him out of the cash box or give him gas money.”
“Before [Shaw] worked for you, did you terminate any prior employees for the same reason?” Mitchell asked.
“Who are you referring to?” Larsen asked.
“Teresa Scott,” Mitchell said.
“I’ve had several employees steal from me,” Larsen said. “I had a woman who stole from me and was terminated six or seven years ago, but I don’t remember if that was her name. I let her go because her mileage log showed she was going all over the state of Mississippi.”
“How many others?” Mitchell asked.
“Three years ago I loaned money to an employee who came here to work named James Jennings,” Larsen said. “He needed a car, so I bought an old one for him. He was supposed to pay me and never did, so I took him to court and got a judgment against him and now I’ve got a lien on it. I got a lot of collection calls from others looking for him after he left.”
“Did you ever have an audit done?” Mitchell asked.
“No,” Larsen said.
“Did you ever leave the building unlocked overnight?” Mitchell asked.
“No,” Larsen said.
“What’s the longest period that you left the building unlocked?” Mitchell said.
“I don’t remember ever doing it,” Larsen said. “It’s possible I did, just like people walk off and leave their keys in the truck.”
“Did you ask your other employees if they took any money?” Larsen asked.
“No,” Larsen said.
“Did you ever instruct her to use cash from the cash box to run errands?” Mitchell asked.
“I don’t remember doing that,” Larsen said, “but I wouldn’t have complained if she picked up something we needed at Fred’s.” Mitchell questioned Larsen about an offer he made through his attorney to Shaw.
“Did you authorize attorney Jeff Smith to make an offer to [Shaw] stating you wouldn’t press charges if she would agree to pay you back $10,000?” Mitchell asked.
“Yes,” Larsen said. “I regretted it as soon as I did it, but the offer stood. I regret even making her that offer.”
“It is pure speculation on your part that she took the money,” Mitchell said.
“She admitted she took it,” Larsen said. “The question is how much.”
“Isn’t it true that you lost your key and had to break into the office and it took you a week to get a new lock?” Mitchell asked.
“It didn’t stay open for a week,” Larsen said. “I put a padlock on it. I built that door, and I can fix it.”
“Didn’t [Shaw] tell you that she might have used $20 as pay for an ad that she didn’t reimburse, or that she took it for gas?” Mitchell asked.
“No, she never said that,” Larsen said.
“How did you arrive at the $22,167 figure?” Mitchell asked.
“That was the difference between what we took in according to the receipt book and what was deposited over a five-year period,” Larsen said. “Some small things were paid out of the cash box, and some things I paid out of my pocket.”
Larsen admitted that sometimes he took “small amounts” of cash out of the cash box when he didn’t have any cash on hand.
“I readily acknowledge doing that,” Larsen said. “Any small business does.”
Larsen also said that he was still getting reports from merchants who traded out services for ads.
“We’re still hearing from people about the trading out,” he said. “That is not included in the $22,167 figure.”
“So you don’t know how much anyone else may have taken out of the cash box?” Mitchell asked.
“No,” Larsen said.
“You don’t know how much you took out?”
“You have no way to establish why money was taken out?”
“Why did you file charges so late?” Mitchell asked. “You discovered the discrepancy in June, but you didn’t press charges until September.”
“The sale took up a lot of time,” Larsen said.
“Did the missing money affect the sale price?” Mitchell asked.
“No,” Larsen said. “[Justin Shelton and Colin Krieger] knew of my suspicions when they bought the paper, but we hadn’t put a figure on the revenue then. But they were well aware of my suspicions.”
Hudson briefly questioned Larsen again.
“Was there ever evidence that the office had been burglarized?” Hudson asked.
“No,” Larsen said. “And in reference to someone coming in when I was asleep, I always had my dogs with me. It would have been very hard to get in without my knowledge.”
“What was the typical amount of money in the cash box?” Hudson asked.
“I don’t know,” Larsen said. “She always handled that. There was always some cash in there, but I never got in there much. I was concentrating on working on news and photographs.”
“But the records show there were receipts and no deposits?” Hudson asked.
“Yes,” Larsen said.
When Hudson finished his questions, Mitchell attempted to ask Larsen another question, but Judge Phillips cut him off.
“I’ve heard enough,” she said. “This case will be bound over to the grand jury.”