STOCKTON, CA - Thick binders on the shelf in prosecutor Stephen Taylor's office tell stories of betrayed trust in columns and rows of accounting ledgers followed by snippets of narratives spelling out corporate theft. On one page, there's a copy of a check written to pay a Stockton charity's bill that was doctored and fraudulently cashed at a bank. Another page is a letter from an employer asking for the maximum punishment for a bookkeeper who stole for years.
These documents are the smoking guns of embezzlement. Taylor, a San Joaquin County deputy district attorney, recently filed charges in four high-profile cases locally. Two came within one week. More are to come, he said. Taylor's boss, San Joaquin County District Attorney James Willett, on Friday announced the creation of a so-called Major Fraud and Real Estate unit to prosecute complex fraud, embezzlement, identity theft and real estate fraud. Taylor and another attorney in the prosecutor's office will staff the unit. "My concern is they are hollowing out these businesses and leaving them as empty husks," said Taylor, whose main concern is that embezzlers cost jobs. "They're just like parasites or a form of cancer."
Like Taylor, those who investigate and study financial fraud say the free-falling economy is directly tied to a recent spike in embezzlement cases. And there are some simple steps employers can take to safeguard themselves and keep employees honest, they say.