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United States v. Saritelli

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

November 12, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHELLE SARITELLI, Defendant.

          SENTENCING ORDER

          JOHN J. McCONNELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Michelle Saritelli pled guilty to one count of bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(2), and is awaiting sentencing. See ECF No. 15. The issue currently before the Court is the estimation of losses that resulted from Ms. Saritelli's fraud to determine her offense level.[1] The Court held a sentencing hearing on October 2, 2019, during which it was presented with documentary evidence and the testimony of Special Agent Colin Woods of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), which the Court found credible. Considering all the evidence, the Court determines that the estimation of losses is greater than $250, 000 but less than $550, 000. Ms. Saritelli's base offense level is thus increased by twelve (12) points for specific offense characteristics. See USSG § 2Bl. 1(b)(1)(G).

         I. BACKGROUND

         From April 2008 until October 2017, Ms. Saritelli served as the office manager and bookkeeper of Stamas Auto and Truck Center, LLC ("Stamas Auto"), a used car dealership owned and operated by Leon Stamas and his son Lee Stamas (together, the "Owners"). ECF No. 21 at 4. In this role, Ms. Saritelli managed the finances of Stamas Auto by paying bills, managing its bank accounts, and maintaining accounting ledgers. Id.

         In September 2017, after checks were written with insufficient funds, Citizens Bank froze Stamas Auto's bank accounts. Id. Alerted by the frozen bank accounts, the Owners reviewed Stamas Auto's financial records and suspected a significant No. of checks had been forged and/or fraudulently negotiated. Id. The suspicious checks had largely been negotiated by Ms. Saritelli, Joe Latham (Ms. Saritelli's significant other), and a Stamas Auto salesman. Id. After being informed of the frozen bank accounts, Ms. Saritelli left work at Stamas Auto and did not return. Id.

         The FBI was notified of the possible fraud and conducted a financial analysis of bank accounts associated with Stamas Auto and Ms. Saritelli from January 2014 to February 2018. Id. After concluding its analysis, the FBI determined that Ms. Saritelli fraudulently obtained funds from Stamas Auto by (1) depositing checks meant for Stamas Auto into her personal accounts, (2) making Stamas Auto checks payable to Mr. Latham, (3) altering "petty cash" checks, and (4) depositing cash stolen from Stamas Auto into her personal accounts. Id. at 4-5. Because financial records for large periods of time were missing, the FBI was unable to identify the precise amount of the loss but estimate it to be well over $400, 000. Id. at 7.

         Checks Fra udulently Deposited into Ms. Saritelli's Bank Accounts

         In its analysis, the FBI determined that Ms. Saritelli fraudulently obtained funds from Stamas Auto by issuing and depositing nineteen noivpayroll related checks into her personal bank accounts in an amount totaling $10, 167.24. Id. at 5. These checks were not authorized by either of the Owners. Id. At the sentencing hearing, Ms. Saritelli conceded that the loss of this $10, 167.24 is attributed to her fraud. ECF No. 28 at 125.

         Checks Fraudulently Made Payable to Mr. Latham

         Ms. Saritelli also fraudulently obtained funds from Stamas Auto by preparing eleven checks to be payable to Mr. Latham from Stamas Auto in an amount totaling $9, 069.17. ECF No. 21 at 5. The checks were ostensibly in payment for work Mr. Latham had done for Stamas Auto or for parts he sold to them. Id. The Owners disputed that Mr. Latham was ever owed any money from Stamas Auto and claimed that the checks were instead prepared and forged without either of their knowledge. Id. Ms. Saritelli does not challenge that the loss of this $9, 069.17 is attributed to her fraud. ECF No. 28 at 125.

         Fraudulent "Petty Cash" Checks Written by Ms. Saritelli

         The FBI also concluded that Ms. Saritelli fraudulently obtained funds from Stamas Auto by altering "petty cash" checks to be for a higher amount and then keeping the excess cash for herself. ECF No. 21 at 5. When interviewed by the FBI, the Owners estimated that they would use $300 a week in "petty cash" to provide change to customers or to purchase items for the dealership such as groceries, cleaning supplies, and gas for the vehicles. Id. The standard operating procedure was for Ms. Saritelli to write a check to cash and request one of the Owners to authorize and sign the check. ECF No. 28 at 17" 18. Ms. Saritelli would then either personally negotiate the check or have another Stamas Auto employee negotiate the check and return the funds to her. Id. Once negotiated, that money was supposed to be added to the "petty cash" fund. Id.

         In its investigation, the FBI discovered over 440 checks that were made payable to "petty cash" totaling approximately $150, 000. ECF No. 21 at 5. Using $300 a week as an estimate, the FBI determined that $91, 430 in excess "petty cash" was withdrawn during the time period analyzed. ECF No. 28 at 31. The Owners were able to locate copies of "petty cash" checks that they signed after being presented with them by Ms. Saritelli. ECF No. 21 at 6. The amounts on these checks were lower than the amounts of the checks that were ultimately cashed. Id. While the "petty cash" checks were negotiated by Ms. Saritelli and other members of the Stamas Auto staff, the other staff members who negotiated these checks claimed to have always delivered the full amount of cash to Ms. Saritelli. ECF No. 28 at 115. The "petty cash" checks suspected of being fraudulent were not accounted for on the financial ledgers maintained by Ms. Saritelli or were accounted for with false explanations. ECF No. 21 at 6.

         Ms. Saritelli argues that the $91, 430 in excess "petty cash" withdrawn during the time period analyzed should not be fully attributed to her fraud. ECF No. 28 at 125-26. It is her contention that this amount is only deemed excessive based on the Owner's estimation that they would not use more than $300 a week in "petty cash". Id. She further asserts that, because she was not the only one to negotiate these "petty cash" checks, excess amounts could have been stolen by the other staff members who negotiated the ...


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