July 30, 2014

Credit union employee charged with embezzlement

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By Stephanie Choate 

Observer staff

July 25th, 2013

Willistonian and former New England Federal Credit Union employee Jennifer Pettinelli was arrested earlier this month, after police say she transferred money from the account of an elderly client without his permission.

According to a court affidavit by Williston Police Sergeant Bart Chamberlain, Pettinelli is suspected of embezzling “at least $2,900 since December 2012.”

Pettinelli, 21, was arrested on an active warrant on July 10 after she canceled a meeting with Chamberlain at the station and did not respond to further requests to meet, according to police reports.

According to the affidavit, Pettinelli’s roommate came into NEFCU on May 9 to file a complaint against Pettinelli. The roommate—whose name police have not released—said Pettinelli told her on May 1 that NEFCU had mistakenly put $500 into the roommate’s account, and asked for reimbursement, according to the affidavit. Pettinelli allegedly told the roommate the same thing on May 3. The roommate reimbursed Pettinelli for a total of $1,000, the affidavit states.

“The member became suspicious at this time, as she knew Jennifer was an employee at the NEFCU,” the affidavit states, referring to the roommate.

On May 9, NEFCU authorities met with Pettinelli, and she stated that she had transferred the money from a NEFCU member’s account “without his knowledge or permission,” according to the affidavit.

“The customer is elderly and hard of hearing, and has had other known transactions at the Pearl Street Essex branch with Jennifer,” the affidavit states. Pettinelli previously worked at NEFCU’s Essex branch.

Pettinelli was sent home from NEFCU on May 9, and her employment was terminated shortly thereafter, said NEFCU Chief Financial Officer Susan Leonard. NEFCU also contacted the police.

NEFCU “conducted an investigation and determined Jennifer transferred $2,900 in 15 separate transactions from December 2012 to May 2013 into the accounts of other NEFCU members that she owed money to,” the affidavit states.

NEFCU reimbursed the money to the customer’s account within a few days.

Leonard said she can’t recall a similar incident at NEFCU in the 20 years she has been there.

“We take it very seriously,” she said. “Members need to have trust in us, and we take that relationship with our members very seriously. Anything like this that would come to our attention is going to get immediate attention and immediate intensity from us.”

KEEPING YOUR ACCOUNT SAFE

Leonard said that while NEFCU and other financial institutions do have safeguards to detect and prevent fraud, members should keep an eye on their accounts.

“At the end of the day, they’re the only ones who know 100 percent that the transactions on their account were done by them,” she said. “It’s very important that they review their accounts periodically.”

Robyn Young, a Williston-based money management consultant, said bank  and credit union customers should always get receipts from any teller transactions and compare receipts to their statements each month. They should also be familiar with their account numbers, and question any account number appearing on a receipt that they don’t recognize.

“This is how you catch mistakes – both your own and the bank’s,” Young wrote in an email to the Observer. “Banks do make mistakes. Customers should not be afraid to speak up if they think something is wrong.”

She said if a customer hears that the bank made a mistake more than once, they should speak to a high-level person in the institution for an explanation.

Account security gets more difficult, though, when a customer begins to have trouble reading and comprehending their statements.

“Protecting elders can be tricky as one of their top priorities as they age is to maintain control over their lives,” Young wrote. “Admitting that they need help (with anything), to them, is contrary to maintaining control.”

Still, Young recommends a second set of eyes on bank statements. Customers can ask the bank to send a duplicate copy of statements to another person, or have someone else on the account as an agent by power of attorney.

“Having another person review the statement and compare it to account numbers and deposit slips can only help,” she wrote.

Pettinelli was cited on a charge of embezzlement by an officer of an incorporated bank (which is also applicable to credit unions), said Chamberlain, who noted that the penalty for this charge is greater than that of a typical embezzlement charge.

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