Embezzling case to go to district court
BRECKENRIDGE – The hints of internal wrongdoing had grown to nearly overwhelming levels. Daily audits were consistently out of balance. Complimentary rooms had been granted in alarmingly excessive amounts, and hotel manager Megan Pierson had no solid explanation for any of the apparent blunders.
But Pierson’s boss, Dillon Super 8 co-owner Heidi Thomas, trusted her right-hand employee so deeply that she refused to even consider Pierson could have played a part in the problems.
When the evidence pointed repeatedly to Pierson, Thomas’ long-held faith was shattered. She testified Tuesday in Summit County Court that she was “hurt and disgusted” to finally realize Pierson is the most likely culprit in the disappearance of $260,000 in hotel funds.
“I never in a million years would have dreamt she was the one,” said Thomas.
On Christmas Eve, Pierson, 34, of Summit Cove, was arrested and charged with the theft.
After Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, Summit County Court Judge Ed Casias ruled there was enough evidence to bind her case over to district court.
Pierson is accused of embezzling the money during her four years as the hotel’s general manager. She was promoted from desk clerk to manager in 1998. The problems investigators found go back to mid-1998 and continued into 2002. Pierson resigned as the hotel’s manager in mid-2002.
But public defender Dale McPhetres said there is no evidence to show Pierson committed any such crimes, and pointed out that other employees had access to some of the same computer programs as Pierson.
Thomas, however, said only the manager controls some of the programs that were in disarray.
Thomas’ first sign of trouble came when she noticed the daily audit reports no longer balanced. Thomas said a message on the bottom of the
computer-generated reports typically reads, “Congratulations, you balanced,” and when they don’t, the line details the amount by which the numbers are off. Not only were those numbers consistently off, Thomas said eventually the line simply disappeared.
“I could see someone had been using whiteout,” Thomas said. “(Pierson) said, “Sorry, I’ll talk to the night auditor.'”
Shortly before Pierson was promoted to manager, the hotel adopted a new computerized accounting system to replace its former manual system.
“Initially, I thought the problem was the night auditor,” Thomas said. “Then I became convinced it was the computer. The numbers were so far off it was ridiculous. I called Super 8 (headquarters). They said, “Computers don’t lie.'”
While Thomas was the operating manager, she said Pierson was responsible for the day-to-day operations and finances, and Thomas’ management style was hands-off. Pierson had no set hours, though she was responsible for the daily audit report.
While Pierson was manager, Thomas said cash deposits were rare, some days nonexistent. But that didn’t alarm her, she said, because, “Megan had me convinced 98 percent of our clients paid with credit cards.”
But in addition to the problematic audit reports, some other glaring anomalies began
popping up. Company policy dictates that complimentary rooms, which must be approved by the manager, can’t be given during ski season. But in one winter month alone, the hotel recorded 156 “comps,” she said.
In late 2001, Thomas called one of the computer technicians who had helped install the company’s accounting program to take a look at the problem. He found nothing wrong with the system, and Thomas said he told her, “”They’re stealing from you.'”
Thomas didn’t want to believe that.
Before accusing anyone of such misdeeds, she wanted a second opinion. Thomas called another hotel manager from the company, Hamid Hursan, who is also Thomas’ friend. Hursan probed into the computer records in-depth, and also said the problem was not related to programming. He testified that he found “a large number of payouts, and nothing to back them up,” such as receipts.
“One month can be a mistake, but it happened consistently every month,” Hursan said.
Hursan said customers can ask for a refund within a few minutes or an hour of their arrival, but not after they’ve been in the room for much longer than that. His investigation turned up records of refunds for rooms, even though those rooms had been cleaned and apparently used on the refund dates.
Hursan admitted his research didn’t prove Pierson made all the mistakes he found, but he said that as hotel manager, she should have caught them.
Thomas said Pierson went on vacation in June, then resigned and never returned to the hotel.
“After she left, we went through her desk and found all sorts of incriminating evidence,” Thomas said, including forged signatures on legal documents and evidence of money owed to local ski areas for lift ticket sales made at the hotel. Around that same time, a man called from Brazil to say his credit card had been charged $800 even though his children had paid cash for their stay at the hotel.
Thomas also said she’s had no problems since Pierson left. The daily reports have consistently balanced, she said, and cash deposits are made virtually every day.
While McPhetres argued there is no evidence to show Pierson committed any crime, much less received any of the money reported missing from the hotel, assistant district attorney Rachel Fresquez said Pierson took advantage of her boss’s trusting nature by blaming the botched reports on the computer.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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