'Trusted employee' guilty of embezzling UM office manager stole $158,000 in payroll scheme

September 09, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

She looked like the perfect employee. She'd work into the night, come in on weekends, interrupt her vacations to do paperwork. As a reward for her effort, her bosses honored her as an employee of the year.

Few at the University of Maryland, College Park honors program suspected that office manager Adrenne Davis Whitlock was putting in the extra hours to run an elaborate embezzlement scheme that brought her $158,000, said Philip Tou, a detective with the campus police.

Whitlock, a 51-year-old Takoma Park resident who worked for the university for 20 years, faces up to 30 years in prison for felony theft when she is sentenced Oct. 26.

"Ms. Whitlock was a trusted employee," said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. "Unfortunately, she took advantage of that trust in order to carry out this scheme and keep her co-workers from suspecting her."

Whitlock pleaded gulity last week. She admitted to investigators that, from 1990 to last year, she submitted dozens of forged time sheets in the names of professors, students, her husband, son and daughter. She then collected their paychecks and signed them over to herself, according to court records.

She used the money to pay rent, buy a Mercedes-Benz for herself and purchase a car for her daughter, according to investigators and court records.

Among those whose names Whitlock used in the payroll scheme were lecturer Colman McCarthy, a former columnist for the Washington Post and a contributor to The Sun, and Morris Freedman, retired chairman of the English department at College Park.

'It's astonishing'

In each case, the employees were part-timers who might not know that she had submitted requests in their names for a few extra hours of pay, prosecutors said.

"It's astonishing," said Freedman. "I can't believe that somebody like her could not only commit malfeasance but also get an award for doing her job well."

Freedman said he suspected something was wrong last year when he asked Whitlock to deposit his checks electronically into his account. She said this was impossible and insisted she had to pick them up. Freedman then received a statement from the university payroll office claiming he earned $325 more than he had received.

That amount was from two checks Whitlock intercepted and put into her bank account, forging Freedman's signature to make the deposits, according to court records.

Whitlock could not be reached for comment yesterday. Her attorney, Steven M. Jacoby, refused to discuss the case.

Authorities discovered her payroll scheme by accident. On July 1, 1997, when she lived in Silver Spring, U.S. Postal Service investigators working with campus police searched her home in connection with an unrelated check-fraud investigation, according to prosecutors and police.

Rummaging through the home, police found several College Park payroll check stubs in names other than Whitlock's.

Further investigation revealed that Whitlock, who as office manager of the College Park honors program handled payroll duties, had hijacked 107 paychecks belonging to people for whom she had forged time sheets.

Added to her paychecks

In addition, she illegally boosted her paychecks by giving herself $9,500 worth of unapproved overtime, according to prosecutors.

Whitlock's reputation as a hard worker fits the classic portrait of an embezzler, said Carolyn H. Henneman, chief of criminal investigations for the attorney general's office. "Typically, the embezzlers are the first ones in and the last ones out of the office because they want to be the only ones looking at the books," said Henneman.

A university commission gave Whitlock an award in 1996 for her outstanding service as a clerical worker, according to university officials.

"Of course, we didn't know about the problems until she was caught," said Professor Maynard Mack Jr., director of the university's honors program. "Obviously, this is bad news. But other than that, I have no comment."

Some 1,500 students with high test scores and grade point averages are enrolled in classes through the honors program. The courses are often unorthodox, taught by visiting professors, with titles that include "Exploring Homophobia: Demystifying Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues," "Television Reality" and "The McDonaldization of Society."

'Softhearted liberal quote'

McCarthy, a peace activist who wrote a column for the Washington Post for 28 years until he retired in 1996, has been a program instructor for more than a decade.

McCarthy never received $5,586 in paychecks during 1996 and last year for extra hours that Whitlock claimed he worked. Instead, Whitlock forged McCarthy's time sheets and intercepted the money, according to court records.

"Here's a good, softhearted liberal quote for you," McCarthy said. "I certainly have no ill feeling toward Adrenne. She pleaded guilty, and I'm sure she's sorry. The $158,000 is infinitesimally small when compared with the grand larceny and thievery that goes on every day by military contractors. I wonder why the prosecutors don't go after these criminals instead of a university secretary."

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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