Controller Embezzles $1.1 MIL

Vanessa Vence-Small

So much for brand loyalty.

When the controller of a Connecticut BMW store used embezzled funds to buy a car, she didn’t opt for a 3 series or an M240i convertible.

Nope, Vanessa Vence-Small chose a Mustang. And the $50,000 Ford sports car made nary a dent in the more than $1.1 million Vence-Small stole between October 2014 and June 2017 while working for Continental BMW of Darien, Conn., court documents show.

Vence-Small, 50, of New Windsor, N.Y., pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced Nov. 28 in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn., to 30 months in prison. She’s scheduled to report to prison on Feb. 4.

Prosecutors alleged that Vence-Small enriched herself “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.” The dealership’s insurance policies covered $755,000 of the loss, according to the prosecution.

In addition to prison, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer ordered Vence-Small to fully repay the dealership and its insurers. She has repaid about $200,000 so far, the U.S. Attorney’s office said, including $28,840 from forfeiture of the Mustang.

Wire fraud carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of more than $2.2 million, according to the plea agreement.

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Vence-Small lived high on the hog with the purloined funds, including first-class travel for herself and her husband to Jamaica, Australia, Hawaii and Mexico, and payments to contractors who landscaped and remodeled her home, court documents show.

She began embezzling 50 business days after being hired in August 2014 for the $150,000-a-year position, which included personal use of a luxury vehicle.

“Vanessa thrived on making it seem like she was being the hero and pointing out our flaws to improve them, while she was seeing the opportunities of how to steal from us,” dealership President Paula Callari said in court as part of a witness impact statement.

Callari said the thievery caused the store a huge amount of trouble.

“We were all concerned of the dealership finances and that we were not making the profits we should have been,” she said. “We had to let go of many people and changed several pay plans. But month after month, nothing seemed to change and no one could figure out why. She had an answer for everything but would reassure me that things will be so much better by year-end.”

Callari and store General Manager Matt Cosgrove, who also spoke at a sentencing hearing, didn’t respond to messages from Automotive News.

The dealership fired Vence-Small and notified law enforcement after discovering irregularities in June 2017. Motivated by greed

Motivated by greed

The U.S. Attorney’s office said in court filings that Vence-Small was motivated by greed and called her an “active consumer of non-essential expenditures” including cosmetic surgery and fashionable clothes. It used such terms as “high-volume spending habits,” “opulent lifestyle” and “lavish materialism.”

A forensic audit showed that Vence-Small stole $904,659 through 65 unauthorized electronic funds transfers from Continental BMW’s bank account, with the money going into her personal American Express account. In one such transaction in April 2017, the dealership’s bank wired $18,567 to American Express.

In addition, she wrote 28 bogus checks totaling $207,778 to pay her own credit card bills, contractors who worked on her home and the dealership where she bought the Mustang, prosecutors said. She also chalked up $31,452 in unauthorized reimbursements and credit card expenditures.Past improprieties

Past improprieties

In its sentencing memo, the prosecution sought a 33- to 41-month prison term and said Vence-Small had a “history of financial improprieties with at least two prior employers,” both of which fired her. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said she wasn’t prosecuted in those cases. According to a court filing, one of the former employers is Friendly Honda of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

In Vence-Small’s presentencing memorandum, her defense lawyers asked for probation and asserted that “she is not a hardened criminal. She is committed to turning her life around.”

The memorandum said the illegal activity “represents an aberration of her behavior and character” and resulted in part from “emotional and mental challenges.” Her defense lawyers didn’t return phone and email messages.

Continental BMW President Callari had a different take.

“The only thing Vanessa is sorry for is that she stayed with our company too long and got caught,” Callari said in court testimony. “People like Vanessa do not change their stripes.”

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