Local car dealer shares warning signs of employee theft
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
Business was in high gear at Blazer Motors. Owner PJ James had just expanded to include a new dealership, Certified 1 Auto when the business growth stopped.
“I started noticing cash flow as just a little off,” James said.
Thinking it might just be growing pains, James brought in a business consultant to make sure his business was running efficiently.
“Right away I noticed something unusual about their cash flow that I couldn't quite explain,” Pip Hutton told FOX 25. Hutton is a business consultant who specializes in finding where businesses can improve.
However, in this case it was not just excessive spending. The numbers did not add up. Soon Hutton would realize someone James had trusted was taking money from the business.
“Cash advances from casinos, many hundreds of dollars into the thousands at times at restaurants, at gas stations, at clothing stores,” Hutton said of the unauthorized credit card purchases.
“We're still counting but we have verifiable of over $300,000,” James said of the losses. He believes when they are able to track cash taken the total could top half a million dollars.
James had put faith in his team while his attention was split with the new dealership. He said that trust cost him. “I trust everybody, maybe that's a big fault of mine, even your closest friends in business you've got to keep an eye on,” he now believes. “Everything. No one keeps an eye on your business like the owner does.”
He is not sure he will ever see repayment of the money that was taken from him.
“From what I'm finding out,” James said, “In the state of Oklahoma it's kind of tough to track it and get it back and get restitution it's pretty tough.”
He's thankful for law enforcement, but with big financial crimes justice moves slow. If someone had robbed him police could have made an arrest outside his door. Tracking down purchases and tracing cash is a much longer process.
James says the biggest thing he learned is double check everything. His consultant said that is easier than ever now.
“Digital copies of everything,” Hutton said. “I now have him moved onto a cloud-based software where every expenditure he can pull up on his cell phone.”
Hutton said some of the advice he offers businesses to make them more efficient are also helpful in uncovering and recovering from insider theft.
“Don't make the process overly complicated reduce it to just what you need,” Hutton said. He said as businesses grow they can lose track of accounts. So make sure old accounts are actually closed and not being used to siphon money. The same goes for company credit cards. While it is not necessary to micro-manage and watch every penny there should be checks and balances on where purchases are made.
Finally, communication is the key. In James’ case he already had a good relationship with banks and lenders. In this case it meant working with various fraud departments and asking for leniency in repayment.
“It was kind of tough making the phone calls and telling them the story too,” James told FOX 25, “Swallow your pride and tell them ‘I had a bad day can you help me out.’”
While losing that much money that quickly has been tough, James said he has had to take it one day and one struggle at a time. Making payments, committing more of his personal savings and leveraging properties are all helping him recover. However, he is committed to recovery.
He still has his family and the families of the rest of his employees counting on him.
“I want to be the guy who tells the story later down the road of how i took the hit and I'm still here or I’m doing better.”