Crime

Bellingham bookkeeper adds zeros to checks to steal $57k

McClatchy

A Bellingham bookkeeper added extra zeros to a client’s checks in periodic thefts that tallied up to about $57,000, according to court records.

A Whatcom County woman, 69, reported in January 2016 that her bookkeeper Rachel Rosalina Rodriguez had been writing forged checks to herself, through a Morgan Stanley account Rodriguez had access to. Bank records revealed 16 checks were altered or made up over two years, according to charging papers.

Sometimes a “0” had been turned into an “8.” Or a “0” or “3” had been repeated. A ledger noted a check should have covered a supposed electric bill, or a purchase at a hardware store. Twice the checks were noted as “void” in the ledger, though a voided check for $1,789 had been cashed as $17,890. In two instances, the check wasn’t recorded in the ledger at all.

This went on for about 24 months, and all told, Rodriguez stole $57,030.54, according to a Bellingham police detective’s spreadsheet documenting the thefts. Charging papers say Morgan Stanley reimbursed about $45,000 to the victim.

In an interview with police in 2016, Rodriguez denied altering the checks. She claimed to have permission to cash them as she had done, though she couldn’t explain why the voided checks had gone through, according to the charges. She was arrested but did not have to post bond.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty this week in Whatcom County Superior Court to first-degree theft and three counts of forgery. She must serve 3 months of jail time, in a plea bargain approved by Judge Deborra Garrett. She’s eligible to serve her time through work release, school release, or house arrest.

She also pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor theft in Whatcom County District Court, said Deputy Prosecutor Evan Jones. As part of that deal, she will remain on probation through the county for 2 years, or until she pays back all of the money. The exact amount of restitution remains to be decided. However, the amount should be close to $57,000, Jones said.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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