A former employee of an Altoona printing company embezzled at least $151,130 over an 11-year span, police alleged.
Leona F. Gebhart, 70, of 1469 Reservoir Road, Hollidaysburg, was arrested Thursday and charged with 90 felony counts including forgery, access device fraud and theft, after a 2-year investigation by Altoona police into financial discrepancies at Henderson Printing, 813 Green Ave.
According to Altoona police, Gebhart, who had worked for the company since 1964, was the comptroller for Henderson's Printing and its subsidiaries, Kunz Business Products Inc. and Times Tribune Co., and was responsible for handling payroll, paying bills and other accounting and clerical duties.
Police contend that starting in February 2000, Gebhart embezzled thousands from the company while allowing federal tax obligations to slide. It was an IRS lien on the building and the freezing of the company's bank accounts that brought the scheme to the attention of R. Thomas Henderson, the company's chairman of the board, on April 1, 2011, according to police.
Gebhart was suspended April 4, and Henderson called Altoona police April 8. A forensic audit by the accounting firm Alpern Rosenthal alleged Gebhart stole cash, made out bogus payroll and other checks to herself and cooked the books and tax returns to hide the fact she had stopped paying federal payroll taxes in 2004.
The investigation showed she allegedly stole $66,649 by manipulating the company's petty cash and writing unauthorized checks to herself, as well as Thomas Henderson.
Henderson, police said, was unaware of the checks and didn't receive any of the money. In all, Gebhart is accused of writing out $60,150 worth of checks, with investigators noting that bank statements between October 2000 and December 2003, were not available.
Police said Gebhart made duplicate and sometimes triplicate payroll checks out to herself to the tune of $13,119. Other unexplained checks made out to vendors allegedly netted her $11,210.
Gebhart, who was fired May 18, 2011, provided the accounting firm with false paperwork, police said, and in 2008 alone $80,626 in checks was not properly recorded. Police said checks valued $34,899 in 2009 and $30,865 in 2010 were not recorded in the company's ledgers.
To hide the fact she hadn't paid the company's payroll taxes to the IRS, Gebhart fabricated documents that included fake confirmation numbers and dates, police allege. Gebhart also logged onto the company's computer in the middle of the night to manipulate previous year's records, police said.
While police pegged losses at $151,130, investigators noted Gebhart destroyed records, so the true impact on the company's finances was likely much higher than what could be proven in the audit. The company was also hit with IRS penalties and fees not added into the total loss, police said.
Gebhart, police said, denied taking the money and blamed Henderson for not providing enough money to run the company. Henderson at one point had loaned the company $636,000 to remain afloat and avoid layoffs, a loan he made using Gebhart's internal financial statements and corporate income tax returns, police said.
Gebhart allegedly hid the fact the IRS was going after the company's back taxes by intercepting mail and ultimately lying to an IRS agent who visited the company's Green Avenue office. Gebhart told the agent Henderson was not in the building and never told Henderson of the visit, police said.
A message left at Henderson Printing on Thursday for Thomas Henderson was not immediately returned.
Gebhart, who moved to Lancaster in 2011 but maintained a property on Lexington Avenue, was arraigned Thursday by Magisterial District Judge Todd Kelly and released on an unsecured $35,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is slated for Sept. 25 at Central Court.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.