Ex-worker at auctions is indicted

Former clerk accused of stealing $12,000 of vehicle sales

Owner formally cleared

Information passed on to authorities in Prince George's

November 16, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The former bookkeeping clerk for one of Southern Maryland's leading automobile auction houses was indicted yesterday on charges that she siphoned nearly $12,000 from the business, shortchanging charities that rely on sales of donated vehicles for income.

An Anne Arundel County grand jury handed up five counts of felony theft against Alene Hinebaugh, 46, of the 6800 block of Den Mar Lane in Sunderland in connection with an alleged yearlong scheme against Colonial Auction Services Inc. and nonprofit groups. Prosecutors allege she skimmed $11,975 from several vehicle auctions whose proceeds were to go to charity.

"She maintains her innocence on any theft charges," said Joseph Vallario III, attorney for the Calvert County woman.

Prosecutors say the alleged thefts at the Waysons Corner operation in Anne Arundel are dwarfed by what they suspect Hinebaugh stole from Colonial Auction's main operation in Prince George's County.

The company's president, Melvin E. Richards, was charged a year ago with 56 counts of theft. The charges were dropped in February as the investigation continued, and he was formally cleared yesterday.

Timothy F. Maloney, attorney for Richards, estimated the loss to Colonial could reach $500,000.

"He lost at least $250,000, more than $250,000, to the embezzlement. And he lost just as much due to the publicity of the indictment," Maloney said. But most of the customers who dropped Richards in the wake of the indictment slowly came back after the charges against him were dropped, Maloney said. Richards referred all calls to Maloney.

Richards has settled with the charities. He had no legal obligation to do so, Maloney said, but "he felt he had a moral one."

Anne Arundel prosecutors were alerted to discrepancies in bookkeeping records by the Charles County sheriff's office, which began a probe after it believed it had been shortchanged on the auction of a car it had seized in a drug case.

After Richards was charged, his attorneys began an internal business probe. What they discovered was a pattern of discrepancies between sales prices of vehicles and the prices reported to the clients, all concentrated at one point in the bookkeeping cycle, Maloney said. The discrepancies were in computerized records.

"Mr. Richards, he doesn't know how to turn on a computer," Maloney said.

Further investigation by prosecutors and Colonial focused on Hinebaugh, a $22,000-a-year bookkeeping clerk.

An investigators' search of Hinebaugh's home in February turned up nearly $70,000 in cash. Richards fired her the next day, Maloney said.

The charges stem from the auction of vehicles for Volunteers of America, the American Cancer Society and the National Kidney Foundation between August 1997 and August 1998.

"We have 69 total vehicles," said deputy state's attorney William Roessler.

A conviction on all counts carries a top penalty of 60 years in prison.

Colonial Auction's operation at Waysons Corner handles a fraction of the company's business, Roessler said. The Upper Marlboro location is much larger, and Roessler said he has given Prince George's County authorities information that Anne Arundel investigators turned up on alleged thefts from the Upper Marlboro operation.

"She shorted the organizations, a little bit at a time," Roessler said. "You're stealing $50, $100 a whack."

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