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Opportunists striking St. John with large-scale financial crimes, businesses asked to add safeguards

LAPLACE —These kinds of crimes aren’t stopping anytime soon, according to Sheriff Mike Tregre, who is referencing this month’s arrest of Stephanie Parsons — a Mississippi woman charged with stealing more than $600,000 from a St. John the Baptist Parish hotel she managed.

Stephanie Parsons

“We would ask that businesses put internal audits in place,” Tregre said. “We ask that they create a two-tier system, a multi-signature system that does not let one person become a mastermind, writing the check and cashing the check. It can’t be that way. Some other steps have to be put in place.”

Negative motivations of excessive gambling, drugs and personal demons are driving people to commit these large scale financial crimes, Tregre said, who added his department recently made an arrest charging a local woman with more than $50,000 in thefts from the St. John library system.

When it comes to the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, Det. Sgt. Mike Shard is often first in line investigating financial crimes.

Tregre recently assigned an officer to back up Shard because the work’s tedious nature.

“It’s like chess, and he is a very good chess player,” Tregre said of Shard’s work.

Following a multi-year investigation, financial crimes division detectives concluded Parsons responsible for the theft through cash embezzlement, payroll fraud and unauthorized computer transactions to the company’s internal records system.

Detectives say the suspect made several unauthorized voids and similar transactions that altered the company’s record keeping system to track in house accounts.

As a result, it was determined various cash deposits weren’t completed and account payment checks were entered in lieu of cash deposits, as well to embezzle cash receipts.

Detectives also say a third party firm that supplies temporary labor received inflated invoices from the local hotel through Parsons or other personnel for work not done by the temporary employees.

Police believe those false payroll checks were deposited in Parsons personal bank accounts and withdrawn at area ATMs.

The final result of the investigation determined the overall loss via cash embezzlement and unauthorized voids to be more than $600,000 as determined by an audit and detectives.

Other arrests are possible, police said.

Parsons was arrested last week for money laundering; transaction involving proceeds of a criminal act (felony), computer fraud (felony), theft by embezzlement (felony) and false accounting.

According to online jail records, she posted a $92,000 bond and was released the same day she was arrested — April 9.

Parsons was released from her job upon the initiation of the audit.

“She created a very complicated network for herself,” Tregre said. “Our investigative team found the cracks, proceeded and it resulted in her arrest.”