A West Yellowstone woman admitted this week in federal court to embezzling more than $600,000 from her employer’s clients over a seven-year period.
Ann Bennet Hermanson, 54, pleaded guilty to wire fraud during a hearing Monday in U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch’s courtroom in Missoula.
Hermanson faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release. Hermanson has also agreed to pay nearly $502,000 in restitution to her victims.
According to charging documents:
Hermanson worked for 15 years as a para-professional in the West Yellowstone office for Rudd and Company, a Bozeman-based accounting firm. She had access to bank account information and signature stamps for the company’s customers.
In April 2016, the owner of the Old Town Café in West Yellowstone reported irregularities in her business account to the accounting firm. The owner of the cafe contracted the accounting firm to assist in paying bills and payroll.
The firm reviewed the cafe’s account and found a pattern of suspicious activity that affected multiple business accounts in West Yellowstone.
A review of the accounting firm’s financial records revealed that Hermanson began writing checks from the bank account to pay off credit cards in September 2009. Hermanson also made payments to internet and phone bills for her residence and on properties she and her husband owned.
The accounting firm found that 160 unauthorized checks or electronic fund transfers totaling $116,006 were issued from the bank account from September 2008 to April 2016.
Hermanson admitted to the fraud in April 2016 when an employee at the accounting firm approached her about the suspicious transactions. She paid $128,188 directly to the bank.
The West Yellowstone Police Department subsequently contacted the FBI in July 2016 to investigate alleged fraud against several victims in the area.
An FBI agent interviewed the owner of the Old Town Café who said she was the sole signor on the business’ bank account. Hermanson was assigned to the account and had access to the cafe owner’s signature stamp to pay bills.
The FBI agent interviewed several business owners and residents of West Yellowstone who had contracted with the accounting firm. One of the victims was an 87-year-old woman — Hermanson spent $342,330 of the woman’s money by writing checks or charging credits.
The FBI agent found Hermanson had written checks using signature stamps, opened unauthorized credit cards and transferred funds electronically for six West Yellowstone residents. The agent also found that Hermanson was making checks out to her husband.
The FBI agent found that Hermanson had taken a total of $630,327 from the bank accounts of six residents in West Yellowstone.
In April 2017, Hermanson admitted to the FBI agent to making unauthorized transactions to multiple accounts. Hermanson said her spouse was unaware of the fraudulent activity and that she signed his signature and deposited each of the checks into their bank account.
Judge Lynch set a sentencing date of April 12. Hermanson has been released.