A Burnsville woman was arrested this week on a warrant charging her with swindling more than $180,000 from an Eagan company where she worked as a clerk.
Laura Michelle Schwartz, 36, is charged with 10 felony counts of theft by swindle. One of the counts carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine; eight counts have a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, and the 10th count has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Schwartz was arrested last Thursday and made her first court appearance Friday. She remains in the Dakota County Jail on a $50,000 bond, with an omnibus hearing scheduled Oct. 2 in Dakota County District Court in Hastings.
According to the criminal complaint, Schwartz worked as a clerk for an Eagan-based freight brokerage shipping company, and she began working from home in 2005. Her responsibilities included billing and collecting from clients, bank reconciliations and basic bookkeeping, all of which gave her access to private information maintained by the company about money going in and out and information on contract truckers.
Schwartz also was responsible for issuing payments on behalf of the company to settle debts.
The company’s owner and president contacted Burnsville police in January and said he suspected Schwartz—by then no longer working for the company—of stealing money from the company, which works as a middleman for clients, setting up freight shipments by contracting with truckers and smaller fleet-trucking companies and paying carriers for transporting shipments.
Schwartz’s suspected activities were discovered when the company completed an audit and found several suspicious transactions linked to her company password.
The company president told police he became suspicious when he discovered that invoices from old reconciled and closed accounts were being reopened and paid years later. A review of company records found that Schwartz had repeatedly logged into the transportation management system, reopened closed accounts by altering vendor codes and set up carriers to be paid via check or automated clearing house.
Many of the checks were sent to addresses that didn’t belong to the carrier name on the check, and the automated clearing house payments were routed to two bank accounts that belonged to Schwartz, according to the complaint.
Investigators determined that between June 2007 and last January, Schwartz initiated about 182 fraudulent transactions—82 checks and 100 electronic payments—with a total of $183,010 ending up in Schwartz’s personal bank accounts, the complaint charges.
A review of those bank accounts showed that Schwartz wrote numerous checks to pay for personal items, including utilities, legal fees, child care, children’s athletics, schools, automotive repair and health care.
The company’s vice president of agent services contacted Schwartz and questioned her about the transactions. She told him she believed she had supporting documentation for all the transactions, and the vice president told her to get in touch with the company’s president, which she hasn’t yet done, according to the complaint.
Police questioned Schwartz in early April about the allegations, but she refused to provide a statement.