Embezzling accountant cuts a deal

Usually accountants uncover stories like this one. Regrettably, sometimes they are the perpetrators.

From 2006 to 2008 Heng Bill Chhay, 37, was the top accountant for Empire Companies, an Ontario, CA-based land development firm. In his confession to a U.S. Postal investigator, he felt poorly treated by his employer, which is why he used 13 company checks to pay himself an additional $557,000.

Here's what happened:

Chhay began working for Empire Companies in 2006. In June 2007, he mailed a check for more than $193,000 to his own post office box located in San Marino, California. Over the next several months he would write 12 more, the least of which was for $7,750. In order to cover his tracks, he would then manipulate the company's computer banking records to make it appear the checks he mailed to himself had been voided before cashing. A day before he left his position with the company on May 8, 2008, he wrote two final checks totaling approximately $90,000.

The following month, an Empire executive discovered the embezzlement. Because Chhay had used the U.S. mail to carry out his crimes, the executive contacted the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and an investigation was initiated.

On October 28, 2009, Chhay confessed to a criminal investigator from the postal service. As part of a plea bargain with prosecutors, he entered a plea of no contest to grand theft in March 2010. In early May he appeared in court with $557,000 worth of personal checks to repay Empire Companies, according to comments made by Deputy District Attorney Michael Dowd. Dowd added that Chhay got the money by mortgaging his home and by borrowing from family members.

Chhay told prosecutors that he used the stolen money to pay off bills, including student loans, buy stocks and luxury vehicles, and to take a $5,000 trip to Las Vegas.

U.S. Postal Inspector Ross Hinckley wrote in his report: "Chhay was asked why he did this and he responded by saying he got a lot of companies out of trouble and felt like he was not compensated well enough for doing so, and also felt a lack of appreciation."

Chhay, a married father of three, was sentenced to 180 days in jail. As of December 2009, he was employed as CFO at Champion Arrowhead, a California-based plumbing and irrigation products manufacturer. Champion did not wish to comment on the case.

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