By chris conrad
Sometimes being too trusting can end up costing you a lot of money.
Medford dentist Sandra Carmeci found this out to the tune of more than $160,000 after her bookkeeper reportedly forged checks and racked up credit card bills in the office’s name over the course of several years.
Medford financial detectives believe Jodi Lynne Setzer, 42, of Central Point, made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars from small businesses in Medford, Phoenix and Rainier by ingratiating herself with the owners.
Winning their trust turned into a lucrative scheme after Setzer allegedly began financing her lifestyle, which included building a pool in her yard and buying clothes, with allegedly embezzled funds, police said.
“Unfortunately, it’s this trust that makes people victims,” Medford police Sgt. Brent Mak said.
Carmeci employed Setzer as her bookkeeper for nearly 10 years. During that time, the two became close, Carmeci said.
“I knew her kid and her family,” she said. “It’s been a difficult year. The deception is the hardest thing, when you find out a friend is not a friend.”
Carmeci became suspicious when some red flags appeared in the practice’s business accounts. A check of the books turned up about $80,000 in embezzled funds siphoned off the business and into Setzer’s wallet.
“At first I didn’t even want to call the police because I knew her and her kid so well,” Carmeci said. “We eventually worked out a deal where she paid me back.”
However, more and more losses were found over time, which eventually added up to more than $160,000, Carmeci said.
The last straw came when Carmeci found that thousands of illegal painkiller prescriptions were collected by Setzer. Carmeci called the police after that discovery.
Meanwhile, Stephen Petersen, a Rainier attorney, was digging through his own books and finding close to $300,000 in losses. He, too, had hired Setzer as a bookkeeper for his law business.
“Honestly, I don’t know how much she got me for,” Petersen said. “I just knew that I should have been doing better than I was. Come to find out, I was losing a lot of money.”
Detectives also contacted the Phoenix-based Noel Lesley Event Services, where Setzer had worked as a bookkeeper for a few months in 2011. In that time, police allege, Setzer wrote several fraudulent checks and made unauthorized fund transfers, with a loss of $39,200.
Financial detectives believe all of this could have been avoided if the business owners had installed a checks-and-balances system in the bookkeeping process.
“You never want just one person handling your finances,” Mak said. “And if you do, then you want to have regular, random audits of the books to see if everything is copacetic.”
Both Carmeci and Petersen said they never noticed the money disappearing from their businesses because the thefts were made gradually, over a period of years. In the end, it added up.
“When you’re running a practice and have a family, you sometimes don’t have time to look closely at the books,” Carmeci said. “But I won’t make that mistake again.”
Setzer faces a number of felony charges, including 10 counts of aggravated theft and first-degree theft. She is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on March 18 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.