MIAMI – A former employee of the Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce accused of embezzling close to $100,000 turned herself in at the Ottawa County jail Tuesday, Sept. 3 after a bench warrant was issued for her arrest last Friday.
Brandy Dawn Smith was booked into the jail Tuesday and then bonded herself out on a $10,000 bond after the District Attorney’s office found probable cause to charge her with embezzlement last week.
The charges stem from an investigation conducted by Miami Police Detective Tyson Barnes.
“We take seriously any allegation made involving the theft of any non-profit organization’s funds, including our chambers of commerce,” Assistant District Attorney Bryce Lair said.
“And we are thankful to the Miami Police Department for their thorough investigation and, with the help from Miami police and the chamber, we look forward to resolving this case on behalf of our victims in the business community,” Lair said.
According to Detective Barnes’ report, on July 26 he met with City of Miami Mayor Rudy Schultz, who is also the Chairman of the Board at the MRCC.
Schultz informed Barnes he wanted to file a police report over suspected embezzlement by Smith, who was the Vice President (VP) of Chamber Operations. Smith had been employed by the chamber for approximately nine years, but did not become VP of Operations until late 2017. The VP’s job is to pay bills and do payroll, handling all of the organization’s finances.
Schultz reported that in late May he was contacted by Jeff Brown, the MRCC Secretary/Treasurer, who had received a phone call from a local casino asking if they were aware that Smith was paying for hotel rooms with a chamber credit card.
Schultz contacted then Chamber President Steve Gilbert, who confronted Smith about the charges and she insisted it was an error and that she would reimburse the chamber.
When the next credit card bill was reviewed, according to the probable cause affidavit, it was discovered that Smith had booked hotel rooms in Branson with the chamber’s card six days after she had been questioned about the first incident, according to Schultz, who went on to say that he again met with Smith and that she then resigned her position with the chamber.
On July 23, Shannon Epperson, the Miami Area Economic Development Service (MAEDS) executive assistant, called Schultz to inform him she had agreed to take over the bookkeeping and payroll for the chamber until they could hire a replacement, according to the affidavit.
When Epperson accessed the QuickBooks payroll module for the chamber it appeared that Smith had been overpaying herself, according to Schultz in the report, who stated he then went to the chamber offices and reviewed the data and that it did appear that Smith had “grossly” overpaid herself by paying herself multiple times each month. Smith’s regular salary through the chamber was $40,560 annually, or $1,560 per bi-weekly pay period.
Epperson reported to Schultz that Smith had double-paid herself many times, sometimes paying herself three times in one week. According to the police report, Schultz stated that when he and Epperson went through the payroll it was “not very hard to see that Smith had mishandled the chamber payroll money.”
Schultz then requested that John Ober, a Certified Public Accountant, conduct an audit of the chamber’s finances and payroll and Ober later submitted an e-mail that reported the following:
“I have reviewed the payroll for 2017, 2018, and 2019. I did not see anything unusual in 2017, as it looks like she (Smith) started her extra payroll checks in early January 2018. This continued through 2018 at a moderate rate and then really picked up during 2019. I know there is (sic) a couple more thousand that she took from the Chamber Bucks account, too. I suggest that when going through the rest of 2018 and 2019 that we look at every check to make sure it is substantiated by a valid invoice.”
Smith was approved for a $750 bonus on 12-17-18, according to Schultz, but there were other, unapproved, bonuses issued, including $1,000 on May 29, 2018 and $1,000 on August 23, 2018.
Also in 2018, according to Schultz, Smith ended up paying herself $42,974.62 that was not included in her regular salary. Schultz said that Ober told him Smith gave herself a raise at the beginning of 2019 and paid herself $54,721.78, not including her regular salary of $40,560, in unapproved bonuses, holiday pay, vacation pay, and regular payroll.
The total amount of the alleged misused finances was $97,696.40, according to Schultz and the probable cause affidavit.
“I don’t even know what to say about this one,” Miami Police Chief Thomas Anderson said Friday.
“This case was reported to us by the Chamber of Commerce and, after a lengthy investigation, it was determined that the embezzlement charges were warranted,” Anderson said.
Schultz also reported that Smith had contacted Ober at the end of 2018 to advise him she would be doing the W-2 tax forms, which was out of the ordinary, as Ober had always prepared the forms.
Detective Barnes made contact with Epperson on July 29 who informed him that when Smith logged into the payroll software while training her that Smith clicked on her own name and deleted it. However, Epperson was later able to retrieve Smith’s payroll information from the system, and that is when it was discovered she had allegedly been paying herself far more than her regular approved salary.
Ober reported that chamber employees are paid bi-weekly, which equals 26 pay periods a year. During 2018, Smith was paid a total of 47 times and during 2019 was paid 34 times before she resigned.
“This has been a punch in the gut to the employees at the Chamber. The staff has stepped up with a renewed since of purpose and are moving forward with chamber activities. Our group of employees at the chamber has been rock stars,” Brown said in a released statement.