Athaliah Venus Allison Sentenced in U.S. District Court
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 01, 2013|
The United States Attorney’s Office announced that during a federal court session in Billings, on November 1, 2013, before U.S. District Sam E. Haddon, Athaliah Venus Allison, a 36-year-old resident of Belgrade, was sentenced to a term of:
- Prison: 56 months
- Special assessment: $300
- Restitution: $388,755.33
- Supervised release: three years
Allison was sentenced in connection with her guilty plea to two counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
In an offer of proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Racicot, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
Allison was the bookkeeper for Big Sky Asphalt in Bozeman from the summer of 2008 through the summer of 2012. Her work was predominantly seasonal, and there were periods of time when she was employed essentially 40 hours per week and other periods where she was employed fewer than 40 hours per week, if at all.
In approximately July 2008, Allison began embezzling from the company by writing and signing unauthorized company checks to herself and to other entities and making unauthorized credit card purchases using the U.S. Bank company credit card. The loss to Big Sky Asphalt is approximately $318,166.04 ($68,503.81 in check fraud and $249,662.23 in credit card fraud).
The owners of Big Sky Asphalt found out about the embezzlement when Allison confessed around Labor Day 2012 that she had used the company credit card to pay for her husband’s substance abuse treatment in Billings. Allison was very upset and agreed to pay back the $6,700 charge. Later that same week, Allison called the wife of one of the owners of Big Sky Asphalt and told her that the credit card was due and the balance was $3,426. The owner’s wife called U.S. Bank directly to pay over the phone and was informed that the balance was $10,777, so she went to Allison’s house to get the statement and noticed that it said $3,426. Based on the discrepancy, the owner’s wife ordered transaction histories for the U.S. Bank account dating back to December 2008.
The owner’s wife audited the credit card statements and discovered $249,662.23 in unauthorized purchases, including $39,544.11 to Blanchford Landscaping. Additional investigation revealed that Allison approached the owner of Blanchford Landscaping, for whom she also worked as bookkeeper, in approximately July 2011 and offered to pay the company’s bills with a low-interest, high-limit credit account, which turned out to be Big Sky Asphalt’s U.S. Bank credit card.
Allison also wrote checks to herself on Big Sky Asphalt’s bank account totaling $193,303.81. Even a generous estimate of her actual wages reveals an overpayment of $68,503.81, yielding an approximate total loss amount of $318,166.04 for both the credit card and check fraud. The checks that Allison wrote to herself were often for "reimbursable expenses." The checks also required the signatures of both of the owners of Big Sky Asphalt (J.S. and D.S.), which Allison forged. The forgery on October 22, 2008, in connection with Allison’s negotiation of check number 27462, forms the basis of the identity theft charge in count three of the information.
Allison changed the address for the U.S. Bank statements without permission, rerouting them to her personal residence. She also had the various accounts combined into one monthly summary. Once she controlled the statements she altered them by digitally removing the unauthorized charges and adding those amounts onto authorized expenditures for purchases made by Big Sky Asphalt’s owners. She then removed her personal address from the bill, replaced it with the company address, and made the statements available to the owners for their review.
Allison used Big Sky Asphalt’s credit card to pay Blanchford Landscaping’s bills and then reimbursed herself from Blanchford’s checking account. It appears that she charged $39,544.11 in Blanchford bills to the Big Sky Asphalt card.
Allison also opened a Staples Citibank account in 2008 in Big Sky Asphalt’s name and charged $1,311.90 in expenses to places such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Babies 'R Us, and Kohls.
From May 2009 through April 2012, during the same time period that she was embezzling from Big Sky Asphalt, Allison was also receiving unemployment benefits from the state of Montana. In June 2009, Allison reported to the state that she worked four hours and made $66. That same month, Big Sky Asphalt paid Allison $1,072 in wages for 80 hours of work. In August 2009, she reported 12 hours and $180 to the state but made $2,278 working 181 hours (including overtime) for Big Sky Asphalt.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the "truth in sentencing" guidelines mandate that Allison will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, Allison does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for "good behavior." However, this reduction will not exceed 15 percent of the overall sentence.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bozeman Police Department.