Court records shed light on possible motive in Sue Frank embezzlement case
She was not contacted by a so-called Nigerian prince, but by a man aliased “Harry Garrison” claiming to work with the oil business in Scotland. He needed money to secure an oil contract, he said. So Sue Frank obliged, before she was sentenced to five years of prison on Tuesday, wiring increasingly large sums of money overseas with the promise of reimbursement.
An arrest affidavit recently unsealed by the Summit County Justice Center reveals bits and pieces of this narrative, the possible motivation for Frank to embezzle more than $415,000 from the Summit Association of Realtors, where she served as CEO for 18 years.
“We were never able to confirm if she made this up to hide the money or was the victim of a scam,” said Dillon police chief Mark Heminghous. “Emails from her computer don’t go anywhere. IP addresses come and go. I think you can pretty much figure it was a scam, but her not being willing to participate in the investigation made it hard.”
Records show that using former SAR Board of Directors chair Andrew Biggin’s signature, Frank deposited seven checks into her personal account from June 17, 2014, through Nov. 28, 2014, for a total of $415,200.
Police also have records of four different wire transfers from Frank’s FirstBank account to various financial institutions across the globe. On Nov. 12, 2014, $58,000 was transferred to Guaranty Trust Bank Ltd., a bank in Ghana, the same day the sum was deposited into Frank’s account. Just six days later, $78,000 was sent to the same bank, and on Nov. 28, $96,000 was transferred.
Police also found records of two $50,000 transfers sent to San Jose, California, on June 18, 2014, just one day after Frank deposited $100,000 into her account as a “SAR short-term loan.” Both wire transfers were listed as “for Harry Garrison equipment purchase.”
Frank was arrested by Dillon police on Dec. 2 of that year, when SAR discovered that Biggin’s signature did not match those listed on the checks. They also noted to police that the activity was suspicious because the nonprofit does not make short-term loans. After she bonded out, Frank was arrested again shortly after, when she allegedly wrote a letter instructing FirstBank not to recall the three transfers to Ghana.
“The money went in a variety of directions,” said Fifth Judicial deputy district attorney John Franks. “That particular transaction she was furthering when she was out on bond was money that was sent out to Ghana, and was being held there. She wanted the bank to have a doctrine saying she did not intend to rescind that transaction.”
Frank’s public defense attorney said she was scammed by two different men she met online, who both claimed they loved her. Frank reasserts this in both a written statement, saying she met the so-called “Garrison” on Facebook, and in a verbal statement at Tuesday’s sentencing:
“The two men I met had me convinced that they would return the money I lent them, and that they truly loved me,” Frank said, adding that she faced several emotional events at the time she met the two men. “My mistake was that I did not confide to anyone what I was dealing with. I first lent some of my own personal money and some of the association’s money. All of the money went to the two men.”
Frank’s defense attorney, and several friends, said she had lost her retirement funds, car and ability to pay off her home following the scam. One woman wrote in, adding that Frank had been a reliable employee up until the incident.
Deputy district attorney Franks said his office did not have a record of the transfer of Frank’s personal funds, as it was not related to the alleged theft from SAR.
A recurring pattern
Ralph Gagliardi, with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s ID Theft, Fraud and Cybercrimes Unit, said he sees hundreds of these types of fraud cases every year.
“Only the names change on the victims’ side,” Gagliardi said, adding that he saw the same pattern with nearly each case. “More often than not, the wealthy victims end up going bankrupt. They cash out their retirements, savings and refinance their house, then they start stealing from sources where they can get money from.”
He said the criminals start with smaller amounts, always promising to pay the money back, and building up to larger amounts as they gain the victim’s trust.
“They don’t go for the throat to start,” Gagliardi said.
The friendly messages become more direct, as the scammers give more specific instructions following their demands. And once the money is wired overseas, it is all but impossible to trace.
Each romantic could in reality be a group of scammers, or both people Frank emailed and messaged could be the same person. In some cases, scammers convince another victim to open up a bank account in the United States, where they direct additional victims to send the funds before it is wired overseas.
“The fraudsters reach out and groom multiple individuals, building it up to where they can send them money,” Gagliardi said. “They’ll oftentimes pass them off to somebody else. It helps with the fraud and layers it to give it some sort of believability.”
He added that the scammer’s hasty timeframe creates a “boiler-room type atmosphere” where multiple people take shifts, looking at a script for guidance.
While not all of the embezzled money is accounted for, deputy district attorney Franks said he believed all of the funds were sent. While the Department of Treasury was involved in the case earlier to help trace or retrieve the money, Gagliardi added that in more than 99 percent of cases the funds are gone for good.
“They’ll keep you going until you’re burned out,” Gagliardi said, adding that the victims “do it all to seed this virtual life they’re leading. These people keep going and going until there’s just no more left.”
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