I think I have the widest range of job experience of anyone I know. Convalescent home worker, shoe salesperson, accountant, Wawa deli girl, telemarketing, cashier and fry cook at Roy Rogers, receptionist and personal secretary, nanny, UPS call center, waitress for Wildwood boardwalk pizza eatery and Cape May fine dining. I’ve shoe-horned pumps onto ninety-year-old bunion ridden feet, I’ve cut paychecks for rock stars. I’ve changed poopy diapers and made you a hoagie. I’ve made lunch reservations for CEOs and asked if you wanted fries with that. And somewhere in the middle of it all I found $40,000 of embezzled money. And my reward, honeys, is that beautiful $.02 check you see at the top of this blog.
It was the late nineties and someone for whom I often joined for freelance accounting work needed me for a temp job. Her brother-in-law was president of the board of directors for a day care center that was majorly in the hole. Their books were a mess, they couldn’t keep an accountant and she wanted me to come in with her for a couple of weeks to help get them on a system and hire a permanent accounting person. Mess doesn’t even describe the wreckage we were determined to salvage. Long story short, the books weren’t adding up, the employee vacation and sick time accrual was outlandish (one person could have had simultaneous hip replacement, cosmetic, and c-section surgeries, including recovery time, and still enough sick leave to spend ninety days in rehab), and the director smelled like shit logs, strong coffee and stale cigarettes. I would need a bit more than two weeks to get this thing out of the ditch.
I started with the attendance records, creating a binder with a page for each child enrolled. The day care facility was mostly government subsidized. Some families paid a portion of the tuition; some with check, most with cash. Some walked in with a handful of ones and said, “This is all I have this week.” The director took the money, wrote the parent a receipt, prepared the deposit and then passed it off to me so I could drop it at the bank. I marked the payments in my binder. I wrote letters to the parents who were grossly behind on payments. I was mainly ignored. One parent, however, took the time to photocopy all her receipts and dropped it off to the front desk. The director was in the bathroom so the receptionist gave the copies to me. When I checked her receipts against the records, about half of her cash payments were not accounted for. Well, how about that? The director came out of the bathroom and I hid the copies in my work bag. The director who was never sick, never late, touched all the cash, worked from before opening until after closing. Hmmmm.
I am not a morning person. I’d like to be; I love the sun. I love the smell and sounds of morning, but just can’t do it. Well, to catch a thief, I did it. I woke up at four in the morning and got down to the center by six, knowing the director got there at six-thirty; the only other employee there was the cook. I had half an hour. I went into the director’s office and rummaged through her desk and bookshelves for old receipt books. I found seven that went back for the past three years. Over the course of two days I photocopied every page of every one of them. When the director saw me in so early, she was very surprised. “Don’t get used to it,” I would joke. But I could see her brow furrow with suspicion. She knew what I was there for, and knowing what she also knew about herself, she also had to be realizing her days were numbered. Needless to say–but say it I will–I found many receipts given to parents that weren’t then recorded in the books as payments and deposited in the bank. I compiled my findings, made a spreadsheet and presented it to the board of directors: over the course of three years, I had accounted for $40,000 taken in by the center that was deposited in the director’s pocket instead of the day care’s bank account. The director was fired and I was asked to stay on permanently. I accepted the job and was enrolled in their IRA plan.
So, okay, I’m in accounting, I uncovered pilfered funds and I know nothing about IRAs, 401ks and all that investment stuff. I get my check, I put it in the bank. I either save it or spend it. But the center was putting up money for me, so who was I to refuse? I opted out of investing a percentage of my check, and just let it accrue. There were eight investment profiles to choose from and we could choose up to two, but as I had no idea what I was doing and it wasn’t my money anyway and GOD FORBID I should ask advice from someone, I chose money market (I’d heard of that one) and something with a lot of words in it, some being “capital,” “spread,” and “growth.” Those sounded like good money words. Yeah. Put my money on that one.
My first statement showed I had $15 collectively. Wonderful. I worked for the center for almost two years and the amount went up and down, but when I quit, it was around $60. I moved to Vegas, John Hancock found me, and I started getting statements there. By now I was down to $40. I should have just closed it out, but I let it ride. I threw out the statements as they arrived, who cared that five years later I was down to $12? In 2010 I apparently got a check for $.02. It went in the trash can. Now I’m in Tampa and get a notice that I have been owed two cents for the past three years; when am I going to cash out? I call the number and tell the operator to just close out the account, don’t worry about the two cents, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on and the stamp to send it. He says he can’t do that; he must send the check and I must cash it for it to be fully closed. I say, “Let me get this straight: over the past thirteen years you’ve taken $59.98 of my money but you refuse to take the last $.02. Do I have that right?” He is clearly embarrassed when he says yes indeed, that is correct. For three years they have held $.02 in their accounts, just for me. The letter I had even stated that if I did not cash the check, it would go into a pot of sorts to be left to my ancestors or anyone seeking a vested interest in me after I’m dead. Sorry, kids: this two cents is mine, all mine.