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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Former North Carolina bank manager charged with embezzling customer's $410,000

When floodwaters invaded Leonard Wilcox's garage in 2006, they left in their wake a sodden, sewage-soaked lump of nearly $500,000 in cash in a home safe, the Dickinson man claims.

The 79-year-old longtime local businessman kept his cash buried under the floor of his garage because he didn't trust banks, a federal prosecutor said.
That flood four years ago, however, sent him to Citizens Bank to exchange his "dirty" money for new bills. He stored the fresh cash beginning in March 2007 in a safety deposit box at Citizens Bank, 84 Court St., Binghamton, court documents indicate.
A few months later, in November 2007, Wilcox claims he tried to get into his safety deposit box but the lock had been changed. When someone used a bank key to open it, all that was left was $74,000 in cash.
Now a former Citizens Bank branch manager is on trial in U.S. District Court on a single count of embezzlement. A jury was picked Monday, followed by opening arguments from the prosecution and the defense. Testimony in the case is expected to last four days.
Thomas Cararo, formerly of Dickinson and now a resident of North Carolina, is charged with stealing $410,000 of Wilcox's money from Citizens Bank when he worked there. He has entered a not guilty plea.
A child of the Depression, Wilcox began his business career early by gathering and selling coconuts in Florida as a 10-year-old, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Walsh said in opening arguments.
Later he ran successful businesses in Binghamton, first an asphalt company -- Wilcox & Son -- and then refurbishing and selling heavy equipment.
Like many of his generation, Wilcox made money but he didn't like to spend it, Walsh said.
Now he's lost his life's savings, the prosecutor said.
"All he ever did was work," Walsh told the jury Monday.
Perhaps, but Wilcox is not naïve when it comes to money, said Lisa Peebles, the federal public defender representing Cararo.
Her contention is Wilcox is making the theft up.
"He's about as dumb as a fox," Peebles said. "When it comes to his money, Mr. Wilcox is no fool."
Peebles said there are no records that show Wilcox walked into Citizens Bank with $484,000 and no record that he rented safety deposit box No. 418.

"Can the government prove (Cararo) had his hands near $410,000?" Peebles asked the jury Monday. "No way."
The prosecution will attempt to show Cararo had money problems, Walsh said. They'll also show that Cararo and family members made thousands in purchases to refurbish two houses in Dickinson in 2006 and 2007.
Still, those purchases don't add up to the $410,000 Cararo is accused of stealing, Peebles countered.
According to Walsh, Wilcox and his daughter, Roxanne, at first tried to clean and dry the cash themselves in 2006. They ended up taking the cash in bundles of $15,000 and $20,000 in November 2006 to the Chenango Bridge branch of Citizens Bank on River Road, where Cararo then worked as branch manager, to exchange it. Later they took it to the bank in Binghamton and put it in the safety deposit box.
At that time, Cararo had been transferred from the Chenango Bridge branch office to the Citizens Bank in downtown Binghamton.
When they first rented safety deposit box 418, Walsh said, Cararo gave keys to Wilcox and his daughter, and kept a third key for himself.
Walsh said the keys given to Wilcox and his daughter didn't match, but Cararo's key matched Wilcox's key.
A federal civil jury in November found Cararo liable for the missing $410,000. Citizens Bank had settled with Wilcox, paying him $150,000 the bank could document using bank records.
The Binghamton office of the FBI began an investigation of Cararo after Wilcox knocked on their office door on Jan. 4, 2008, to report the alleged theft of his money, Walsh said.
Cararo left Citizens Bank in August 2007 to work for Bank of America in North Carolina, Peebles said.

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