THE WATCH DOG
By Derek Obregon
You may remember the recent story about Judith Oakes, whom stole more than $3 million over the past 14 years from the Rialto district nutrition department. Due to a statute of limitations, the charges in this case will only cover her alleged crimes since 2005, which is about $1.8 million.
Oakes is charged with eight counts of embezzlement by a public or private officer and eight counts of public officer crime. She could be staring at 11 years in state prison if she is found guilty of all of the crimes. She pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning in Fontana Superior Court.
Her district attorney, C. Patrick Milligan, said, “I need to see the factual information that they have provided before I could make any kind of intelligent and well-considered comment.” He should receive the District Attorney’s Office packet of police reports and a forensic audit no later than Oct. 16.
But how was she able to pull it off for so long; blatantly stealing on 913 out of 1,277 (roughly translating to three out of four) of her work days? The 10-page report by Stewart Investigative Services explains.
“For 14 years, Ms. Oakes was involved in some capacity in counting the cash coming into Nutritional Services from the school sites . . . She eventually was in charge of those who counted the money and oversaw their training.” Auditor Jeff Stewart also found that Ms. Oakes helped set up the camera system that was in place, so she was well aware of what was captured and not captured on camera. All very convenient if you’re going to have your hand in the cookie jar.
There is a money counting machine that counts the bills and informs workers when there is enough money to “strap” it into batches. Oakes reportedly did her work in the back counter room where she couldn’t be seen by the camera. “Ms. Oakes would then quite frequently take a strap or two of twenty-dollar bills or other denominations and stuff them down her top after checking to make sure the person at the computer was not looking,” Stewart reported.
Then, as any good criminal would do, she provided a falsified deposit slip when the money was collected. You would think that money missing from these deposits would be noticed, so why did it take so long to catch on? Easy. Because accounting irregularities were not reported by the staff out of fear of retaliation.
Oakes was smart about this. Instead of giving the breakdown of cash/checks collected from every school every month, there was a spreadsheet Oakes prepared and gave to the staff member responsible for reconciling the bank statements with the district’s deposits. Otherwise, “that person would have then noted if the cash sales did not match the cash deposited and notified the director accordingly.”