April 24, 2014

Engineering

Culture of Trust

Rocked by a $36-million embezzlement scheme, PBS&J finds the same corporate culture that got it into trouble may help it weather the storm.

Cynthia Barnett | 3/1/2007


"The firm grew far more rapidly than our internal-control system," says company Chairman John B. Zumwalt III, who disclosed the embezzlement scheme immediately -- to the SEC, employee-shareholders and clients. "From dayone, I made the decision that we would be totally transparent with everyone."
Photo:
Jeffrey Camp

Suspicious invoices

What grew into a $36-million embezzlement scheme began very small, as is typical in fraud cases. In the early 1990s, according to prosecutors and auditors, two women who'd worked in PBS&J's finance department since 1978, Maria Garcia and Rosario Licata, began identifying old vendor invoices, issuing checks in those amounts, cashing the checks themselves and splitting the proceeds. Later they began to write checks to family and friends, paying for services that had never been rendered.

Their boss, William Scott DeLoach, PBS&J's controller and an up-and-comer in the company, soon called them on the suspicious invoices. But when he discovered what Garcia and Licata were doing, he decided to join the two rather than expose them.

From 1999 to 2003, Licata, as an accounts payable supervisor, would issue checks to DeLoach from one of the company's major bill-paying accounts. To avoid calling attention to either the number of checks or the amounts, DeLoach deposited them in various personal accounts he'd opened throughout Miami. In turn, DeLoach wrote checks to Garcia and Licata.

Along the way, DeLoach remained one of the most-trusted members of the firm's close-knit senior management team, which Zumwalt kept spread around the nation so managers could work "shoulder-to-shoulder" with employees. DeLoach was in Miami, Zumwalt in Tampa, the anointed fourth-generation leader, company President Todd J. Kenner, in Las Vegas.

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