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FBI: Longtime controller fleeced Pine's Baierl Acura dealership

| Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011

Federal authorities accused the former controller of the Baierl Acura dealership in Pine of embezzling money by moving it between accounts and spending it on houses, cars, jewelry and other valuables.

Prosecutors charged Patricia K. Smith, 57, of Cranberry with one count of wire fraud. The criminal information filed to support the charge does not reveal how much money prosecutors say she took but does provide a list of items, including four houses and 10 vehicles, that prosecutors say are linked directly or indirectly to the money.

Two of the houses -- one in Avalon and one in Georgia -- the vehicles, stock, gold coins, some appraised jewelry and other holdings have a combined value of about $920,000, according to real estate records and retail websites. The dozens of other unappraised items listed include furniture, TVs, a Claude Cambour painting and a football autographed by Jerome Bettis.

A plea hearing is scheduled Jan. 10 before U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond in federal court, Downtown; typically, defendants plead guilty at such hearings.

Smith could not be reached. Her attorney, Tina Miller, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hickton also declined to comment.

Baierl released a statement calling Smith a longtime employee who "stole a significant amount of money from the dealership's account."

"Smith was able to conceal the crime by manipulating the internal records and bank statements of the dealership," the statement said. "The loss has had, and will have, no impact on (the) dealership's operations. We greatly appreciate the professionalism of the FBI and U.S Attorney David Hickton's office throughout this matter."

In court paperwork filed on Thursday, federal authorities said Smith tampered with financial records from December 2004 through July 2011 using electronic bank transactions and company ledger entries.

They said Smith shifted money from the business payroll account to her own account and altered bank statements to eliminate references to the fraudulent transactions. She would provide the falsified bank statements to outside accounting agencies who reviewed Baierl's books and records, according to the federal filing.

She falsely inflated the business's general ledger vehicle inventory and added back previously sold vehicles to offset the fraudulent transfers, prosecutors allege. She removed the "added back vehicles" from the inventory reports to management but provided the outside accounting firm a false inventory report, they allege.

The items that federal authorities listed as subject to forfeiture include a Mustang convertible, three Acuras, at least $170,000 in stock, nearly $33,000 in pre-paid travel funds to Delta and United airlines, a mink coat bought in Alaska and about $30,000 in cash.

The court filings say Smith has surrendered dozens of pieces of jewelry worth thousands of dollars, including diamond, gold and silver rings, diamond pendants, diamond earrings and a platinum custom-designed wedding band with 33 full-cut diamonds.

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