KANSAS CITY, MO – A North Kansas City, Missouri, woman was sentenced in federal court yesterday, Monday, April 16, 2018 for embezzling more than $290,000 from her former employer.
Tonya A. Topel, 40, of North Kansas City, Mo., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner to eight years in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Topel to pay $293,193 in restitution, which includes losses from the four fraud schemes to which Topel admitted in her plea agreement as well as additional loss, discovered after her guilty plea, which resulted from another scheme in which Topel fraudulently received tuition reimbursements for non-existent college courses.
On September 18, 2017, Topel pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Topel was a senior auditor at Construction Benefits Audit Corporation (CBAC), a Kansas City, Mo., non-profit corporation that conducts employer audits of union contracts for employers making payments into fringe benefit plans, and ensures fringe benefit payments are made correctly. Topel, who earned approximately $68,000 a year, managed audits and staff and presented ongoing audits. She handled expense payments and had sole access to CBAC’s QuickBooks.
Topel admitted that she conducted four fraudulent embezzlement schemes while employed at CBAC. She began her first scheme, in which she created false invoices for toner cartridges, on October 18, 2012, just a few months after she started working at CBAC. She then added three more fraud schemes, which continued until CBAC discovered her embezzlement and she resigned in May 2016.
According to court documents, Topel stole from employers before and after she worked for CBAC. Topel had an unrelated criminal case pending in Johnson County, Kan., for stealing from her previous employer and was on pretrial supervision at the time she was hired by CBAC. Topel pleaded guilty to forgery and theft in that case, and paid her criminal defense lawyer using CBAC’s credit card. She was sentenced to probation and paid restitution with money she stole from CBAC. According to court records, Topel reportedly stole $26,000 from yet another employer after leaving CBAC.
Through her four admitted fraud schemes, Topel embezzled a total of at least $277,681 from CBAC. Topel spent the embezzled funds on a lavish lifestyle that included travel to Hawaii, Dallas, Boston, and the Bahamas; restaurants; entertainment, including golf, spas, tickets for the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs and Worlds of Fun; a 2014 Ford Mustang; and personal spending such as cash, clothing, dance classes, utility bills, jewelry, transfers to relatives, bank fees/NSF fees, iPads, groceries, and other living expenses.
In Topel’s first scheme to defraud CBAC, she created false invoices for toner cartridges and correspondingly altered CBAC American Express monthly statements to make it appear the toner invoices were being charged to CBAC’s American Express account. Topel submitted the invoices and altered American Express bills to CBAC. CBAC then paid for the false toner invoices to American Express. In reality, Topel made personal charges to the CBAC American Express card, which CBAC paid. Topel submitted her first false toner invoice on Oct. 18, 2012, and continued this scheme through May 2015, during which time she embezzled approximately $45,809.
In her second scheme to defraud CBAC, Topel falsely inflated her payroll checks and made payments to a false IRA plan (which was actually her own bank account). Topel began this scheme in March 2013 and continued it into 2016, during which time she embezzled approximately $24,777.
In her third scheme to defraud CBAC, Topel used a former vendor’s name to create a false email address, false street address, 72 false invoices, and false IRS forms. Topel created the false invoices in amounts ranging from $1,080 to $4,680, made payable to bank accounts controlled by her. Through this scheme, Topel embezzled approximately $188,599.
In her fourth scheme to defraud CBAC, Topel misused a company credit card by charging personal expenses, such as a vacation to the Bahamas, to the card beginning in 2016. Topel then paid the CBAC’s company credit card bill using CBAC’s bank account. Topel created at least five false pay-stubs in which she showed deductions from her paycheck in order to reimburse CBAC, however, she made no reimbursements for her use of the company credit card. Through this scheme, Topel embezzled approximately $19,780.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen D. Mahoney. It was investigated by the FBI.