The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the larceny convictions of a woman who, while working as a bank employee, had stolen money from an elderly customer. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Perez.
Following her indictment, a superior court jury convicted the defendant of two counts of larceny over $250, two counts of uttering, and two counts of forgery. The judge sentenced the defendant to serve one year in the House of Correction followed by two years of probation. Most of the charges against the defendant, who worked as a customer service representative at the bank, related to her interactions with an elderly bank customer named Phyllis Wall. On one occasion, the defendant presented a withdrawal slip to a teller authorizing the release of $300 of Wall’s money to the defendant. There was a dispute as to whether Wall signed the withdrawal slip on her own. Wall was physically frail and relied on a walker to get around. The withdrawal slip was initialed by the defendant, signifying that the teller could process the withdrawal without checking Wall’s identification because, presumably, the defendant had already done so. After the teller gave $300 of Wall’s money to the defendant, the defendant immediately deposited $200 into her own account through a different teller.
A second suspicious exchange occurred between the defendant and Wall’s account when the defendant withdrew $1,000 of Wall’s money (while using a withdrawal slip that may or may not have contained Wall’s real signature) and then deposited the $1,000 into another customer, Judson Silva’s account. There was evidence that the defendant had improperly removed $1,000 from Silva’s account and choose to replace that money with the money from Wall’s account. Each of the withdrawals from Wall’s account led to the defendant’s convictions for forgery, uttering, and larceny. There was also evidence of the defendant stealing significant amounts of money from another bank customer.
When the bank became aware of the defendant’s suspicious behavior, it sent an investigator to interview the defendant. As always, it was stupid for the defendant to submit to an interview, as the bank is interested in obtaining incriminating evidence against her. Sure enough, the defendant admitted she – not Wall – had signed the withdrawal slips. She claimed she brought the money to the defendant’s home and left it in Wall’s mailbox. She also conceded to taking $1,000 from Wall’s account but was then unable to say where the money had gone. As the interview progressed, the investigator confronted the defendant with stories from customers that they had not received the money that had been withdrawn by the defendant. As the defendant realized the tenor of the conversation had become more hostile, she hightailed it out of the room, asserting that she had nothing else to say.
By the time the case went to trial, Wall had died. The Commonwealth was responsible for prosecuting a classic “paper case” where the evidence and the inferences to be drawn from the evidence, would derive from a careful review of the case documents. It’s a really dull way to prosecute a case and it’s a challenge to keep the jurors’ attention. In this case, the prosecutor introduced lots of bank records, some of which the defendant had signed or made other notations. A review of all the bank records strongly suggested the defendant had improperly withdrawn and reallocated the money of bank customers. The defendant made a number of technical arguments at the trial, such that the bank records that were admitted contained hearsay and were therefore inadmissible. The Appeals Court rejected that argument, pointing out that the bank statements were introduced to establish the defendant’s fraudulent behavior, not to establish the truth of the matter contained therein.
The lesson that never get old is this – if you are being accused of a crime, do not talk to anybody about the allegations except for your criminal defense attorney. The defendant here did not help herself by trying to explain her behavior. Remember that an investigator or police officer is never trying to confirm your innocence – they are doing everything in their power to trick you into confessing to a crime.