The former head teller of a Pikesville bank was charged yesterday with embezzling more than $1 million by creating "phantom" transactions so that she could walk out of the vault with bundles of cash, FBI agents said.
Marian D. Turner, 37, who had worked at First Union National Bank for 12 years and was its vault custodian, is believed to have spent some of the money on a new $445,000 Woodstock house and a Mercedes-Benz. Investigators are trying to determine what happened to the rest of the cash.
"There's a lot of money missing," federal prosecutor Kathleen O. Gavin said at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday.
Bank officials learned of the alleged embezzlement during an audit last month. When confronted about the missing money, Turner told an investigator that she might have accidentally dropped it into a trash can while filling out bank slips, a federal affidavit said.
Three days later, on Dec. 20, she acknowledged she took $978,000 and "spent all of the money on gambling," the affidavit said. FBI officials said yesterday they have found no evidence that Turner had a gambling habit or that the money was gambled away.
The bank audit revealed an additional $101,500 was missing. That amount had been delivered by an armored truck and signed in by Turner, court papers said, but the cash was never entered into First Union's "electronic journal" to make it available for use.
Turner, who earned $25,000 a year on her job, has maintained that she and her unemployed husband used money from relatives to help pay for their new house. She also told co-workers that she had obtained the money for the house through a dental malpractice settlement that her husband received -- but the case didn't surface in a search of public records, the affidavit said.
Barry J. Pollack, an assistant federal public defender representing Turner, described her yesterday as a Baltimore native with no criminal record who has voluntarily cooperated with investigators.
"There's no reason to indicate there's a stockpile of assets anyplace," said Pollack, who successfully argued that Turner should be allowed to go home on electronic monitoring pending trial. "This is a 37-year-old woman with strong ties to Baltimore."
Turner pledged her house as bail bond. She is charged with embezzlement by a bank official and making a false official bank entry, both of which carry prison sentences of up to 30 years.
The FBI says the money was taken between May 1998 and last month. During that time, several "false entries" were created in First Union's cash shipment records so that the vault appeared balanced at the close of every business day, the affidavit said.
As head teller, Turner had the combination to the bank's vault and was allowed to go into the vault alone and take out money. Whenever she moved money in or out of the vault, she was required to enter the transaction into the bank's computer system using her confidential password.
An audit caught entries that did not match cash shipment records kept by Brinks Armored, which delivered money to the bank, the affidavit said.
The bank had done an audit in December 1998 but didn't catch financial irregularities, the affidavit said.
Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr., a spokesman for the FBI's Maryland office, called the embezzlement case among Maryland's largest recent ones.
"This kind of fraud for a local bank is very unusual," Gulotta said. "This is why banks have internal controls. The more, the better."