Former Lexington employee pleads guilty in Big Brothers Big Sisters fraud

guilty plea Involves checks worth $435,837

Herald-Leader Staff ReportMay 24, 2011 

Big Brothers Big Sisters filed a lawsuit Monday November 2, 2009 in Fayette County Circuit court that accuses Bendrea Wilson of Lexington, who was hired in May 2008, of forging two board members' signatures on at least 140 checks. Photo Credit: Fayette County Detention Center

The former office manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass pleaded guilty Monday to bank fraud for cashing $435,837 in checks on the organization's account, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Bendrea Wilson, 33, admitted she issued 142 fraudulent checks to other people from 2008 through October 2009, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. Wilson would keep much of the cash, once in a while paying smaller amounts to those who cashed the checks at Central Bank, the plea agreement states.

"The due process needed to take its course," Dale Suttles, CEO of the organization, said in an interview Monday. "It's been a struggle for our organization, no doubt."

Wilson would telephone Big Brothers' bookkeeper at Stivers and Co., an accounting firm hired by the agency, and authorize checks payable to third parties, according to the plea agreement. Wilson would pick up the checks from Stivers and forge the signatures of Big Brothers board members who could sign checks. Wilson would give the checks to the third parties, who would cash them.

Some of the third parties did legitimate work for Big Brothers Big Sisters, but the work didn't warrant the amounts noted on the checks.

To test her ability to get fraudulent checks cashed through the bookkeeping system, Wilson made payable a first check to "Fun Days," a name she made up, the plea agreement said. She concealed the fraudulent checks by telling the accounting firm to charge the checks to the Big Brothers Big Sisters' camp account. That account was used to make payments on renovating a building in preparation for its use as a youth camp. About 90 percent of the fraudulent checks were written to the camp account.

The maximum penalty for Wilson's crime is 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $1 million and up to five years of supervised release. However, the plea agreement indicates that the fact restitution is due to Big Brothers might be taken into account, along with "the defendant's acceptance of responsibility," among other factors.

Wilson is scheduled to be sentenced at 1 p.m. Aug. 25.

In a separate case, Big Brothers sued Wilson and five men to whom she allegedly wrote checks. Wilson signed an agreed judgment that was accepted by Judge James Ishmael and entered in Fayette Circuit Court. The judgment awarded Big Brothers $435,837 plus 12 percent interest a year.

However, Big Brothers has collected only $20,000, Suttles said, and that was from an insurance policy.

He said Wilson "hasn't paid anything."

Wilson turned over her house and other property as part of that agreement, but ultimately, Big Brothers Big Sisters transferred the home back to Wilson.

Suttles said the house was sold, but "she owed so much on it that we basically had to sell it for what was owed."

None of the men named as defendants in the civil suit has been charged in connection with the fraud. Kyle Edelen, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said it is the policy of the agency not to disclose whether charges will be filed.

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