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Accounting and IT Systems Knowledge Enables CU Theft.

Byline: Peter Strozniak

Because Cheryl Vickers had been vice president of accounting and IT for years, she used her inside knowledge to manipulate her credit union's internal controls and commit fraud, prosecutors said.

A U.S District Court judge in Houston sentenced the retired executive of the $631 million Houston Police Federal Credit Union to three years and four months in federal prison Monday for embezzling more than $1.2 million over 18 years.

Vickers, 66, stole the funds from unclaimed checks and reissued them to pay her personal bills.

U.S. Assistant U.S. Attorney Belinda Beek said Vickers siphoned funds from HPFCU in other ways that were not previously detailed in publicly available federal court documents.

Beek said Vickers skimmed credit card rebate fees and paid the property taxes on her home from an account that paid the real estate taxes on the credit union's branches.

Vickers also retired from the credit union with a big, six-figure bank account.

According to court documents, she transferred $949,048 into the federal court's registry earlier this year, which will be returned to HPFCU. The remaining $300,000 in restitution is expected to come from the sale of Vicker's home, Beek said.

Vickers used her knowledge of the credit union's accounting and IT systems to her advantage, making it difficult for auditors or examiners to detect her actions.

"She had been at the (credit union) for so long that she had set up that system up so that the (credit card) rebate fees would come to her," Beek said.

In a previous statement, HPFCU said that because Vickers had extensive knowledge of the core data processing system and was a key contributor to the development of its internal controls, it gave her the ability to cover her tracks.

But David Legge, president of the Manassa, Va.-based the Legge Group, which investigates internal fraud cases for credit unions and other business, disagreed.

"If (Vickers) had control of both areas then she could have made it harder to detect," he said. "However, if a proper internal control review had been done, it (the credit union) should have come to the conclusion that there was not sufficient separation of duties."

Nonetheless, had it not been for the actions of one HPFCU member, the retired executive might have gotten away with the crime.

After she retired last year, a credit union member brought in a stale check -- an old check that had been issued by the credit union but never cashed. Credit union records, however, showed the check had already been reissued by Vickers.

That prompted the credit union to launch an audit of Vickers' banking activity, which revealed she had embezzled at least $1,247,785 since January 1997.

The credit union reviewed its ledger of stale checks, which showed Vickers reissued stale checks to pay her credit card bills.

The checks made payable to the credit card companies, some of which had Vickers' credit card number hand written on them, were issued from an HPFCU account, according to court records.

When FBI agents questioned her about the stale checks, she initially denied any wrongdoing,

After the agents showed Vickers one of the stale checks for about $700, she offered to write a check to settle the matter.

"Investigators said, CyNo, it's not quite that simple,'" Beek said.

After she was arrested and charged with embezzlement in December 2015, Vickers agreed to plead guilty on Jan. 20.

Vickers was permitted to remain free on bond pending her surrender to federal prison

HPFCU President/CEO Ayn V. Talley did not return a CU Times phone call Tuesday seeking comment.
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Publication:Credit Union Times
Date:May 24, 2016
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