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Sunday, April 25, 2010

2 plead guilty to embezzlement: As much as $400,000 taken from accounts at South Carolina credit union

Two employees of the S.C. Federal Credit Union have admitted to siphoning off as much as $400,000 from inactive accounts that belonged to a dead woman, deployed military personnel and other victims.
With one working as an account manager and the other as a risk management analyst, they carried on their
fraud from 2005 to last fall, when they were fired from their jobs at the lender's Summerville branch.
Robert Tam, 42, of North Charleston, and Jason Nicklous Kizer, 31, of Dorchester, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to embezzlement charges.
Their scheme worked like this: Tam, the risk analyst, found accounts with little or no activity, and Kizer issued bank cards in the names of those customers, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart.
Kizer then used those cards to withdraw cash from automated teller machines not equipped with security cameras, and split the money with Tam, DeHart said.
One customer had died in 1999 and, unbeknownst to her family, continued receiving monthly pension checks from the federal government for $1,600. Tam and Kizer embezzled more than $130,000 from that account through 545 ATM withdrawals, DeHart said.
He also said the two men took money from accounts belonging to deployed armed-service members, among other people. DeHart did not elaborate.
As part of his work with the anti-fraud department, Tam could credit accounts for losses.
That proved to be the duo's undoing.
DeHart said Tam returned $20,000 to an account from which he and Kizer had stolen, touching off an investigation within the credit union.
Scott Woods, S.C. Federal's president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday that suspicious transactions "suggested improper activity on the part of employees."
The FBI conducted surveillance and, in October, agents caught Kizer withdrawing $500 from an ATM and immediately afterward meeting Tam in the parking lot.
The credit union fired the men that day, and the next week the FBI served a search warrant on Kizer's safe-deposit box, which contained about $50,000 in cash, according to DeHart.
He said Kizer confessed and implicated Tam, who also confessed.
A grand jury indicted the two men in December.
DeHart said the pair made off with between $200,000 and $400,000, and that the amount for restitution should total about $300,000. After DeHart's statement, Tam and Kizer each told U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr., "That's substantially true."
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped a second charge of aggravated identity theft. Woods said no customers lost money as a result of the embezzlement.
Tam and Kizer each face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Attorneys for both men declined to comment beyond the pleas.
Out on bail, Tam and Kizer likely will be sentenced in four or five months.

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