Businessman who suffered embezzlement warns others
Chico businessman Dave Maurer’s financial nightmare began nearly 10 years ago but only now is reaching its horrendous climax.
It began when an audit of Maurer’s Sounds by Dave audio and video store on The Esplanade, the oldest independent outlet of its kind in Chico, showed it had suffered embezzlement to the tune of $629,000.
However, his attempts during a criminal trial and at least four lawsuits to get that money back have netted him only $50,000—about the same amount he has spent trying to see the cases through. To make matters worse, next month he may be ordered to pay up to $10,000 to cover the court costs of the embezzler’s daughter and husband, whom he unsuccessfully sued for part of the theft.
Maurer has several lessons he wants the public to learn from his fiasco.
“The only reason I’m going public with all this,” he said, “is that I couldn’t stand the idea of the next poor, dumb business owner like me working his ass off for his crooked bookkeeper.”
He cautions business owners against trusting only one person to handle all finances. He also believes that laws involving embezzlement need to be as strict as those for bank robbery.
Back in 2001, Maurer discovered that his bookkeeper of 20 years, Jeanne Calvin, had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from him. He was initially discouraged from pursuing the case by officials from the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, who he says told him they were not funded for such investigations.
He nevertheless went through an arduous, extremely expensive process, which included hiring a certified public accountant, to see a criminal case to trial. Calvin was eventually sentenced to three years, eight months in prison, but served only 14 months due to good behavior. Maurer obtained a judgment in that case for $628,000.
Jeanne and her husband, Bill Calvin, had filed for bankruptcy protection shortly after her arrest. Maurer then went after the couple in bankruptcy court, and received a judgment for $375,000. However, he has received less than $400 from the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. Jeanne now lives in Riverside and works at a travel agency.
The one large sum Maurer did receive was $50,000 from an out-of-court settlement with Calvin’s mother, Barbara Swan, who owned a home found to have been financed with some of the stolen money.
Among the many lawsuits filed by Maurer’s attorney, Michael Shepherd, was a case against Charlene Fedrizzi, the daughter of the convicted embezzler, and her husband, Scott Fedrizzi, for allegedly scheming to steal and hide some of the pilfered funds. In March 2009, after years of legal wrangling, a civil jury ruled 12-0 against them for a whopping $279,829 each.
Maurer’s victory was short lived, however, as presiding Butte County Superior Court Judge Stephen Benson threw out the verdict against Scott Fedrizzi, citing a lack of evidence. The judge ordered a new trial for Charlene, because he had given the jurors improper legal instructions claiming that the defendants could be liable for the entire embezzlement amount if they were involved in any single act.
Theresa Woods, the jury foreman at the time, was quoted in the Chico Enterprise-Record as calling the move “a slap in the face … of the judicial system.”
Maurer appealed the decision and received yet another blow when the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento threw the case out, ruling the statute of limitations had expired. His attorney, Shepherd, was exasperated.
“It’s a sad story,” he said. “You don’t expect this to happen when a jury votes 12-0 in your favor.”
Shepherd noted that the defendants had brought three motions before the judge in pre-trial and during the trial claiming the statute of limitations had run out. Each motion was denied.
Based on the higher court’s ruling, Maurer now believes his lawsuit against the Fedrizzis should never have been allowed to take place. “The court system doesn’t work; the DA’s Office is broken,” exclaimed a frustrated Maurer. “The whole thing’s a big fucking joke.”
The Fedrizzis may have been cleared through a technicality, but they maintain their innocence. Scott noted that he and his wife were given several chances to settle out of court. They refused. “There’s a reason why we never settled—we were innocent,” he said, adding that the trial put him and his wife “literally through hell.”
“This guy [Maurer] is on a mission. We are the fifth and sixth family members to be sued,” he said, pointing out that Maurer previously sued Calvin’s mother, two sons and a daughter-in-law, all over the same matter. “What Jeanne did to him was terrible. But what he’s done since then is no better than what she did to him.”
In January, Shepherd will appear in court to settle the expected $10,000 payment for the Fedrizzis’ court costs, which the attorney explained is customary in such cases.
Maurer believes embezzlement cases often go unreported or are not prosecuted due to a combination of embarrassment by the employer and a lack of funding in DA’s offices.
He does have two final suggestions for relieving this problem. He believes district attorneys should create a self-help guide for victims of embezzlement. He also thinks the public should pressure county boards of supervisors to provide more funding for embezzlement-related crimes.
“If small business is society’s foundation, and financial parasites are allowed to get away, that deteriorates our foundation,” Maurer said.