A former bookkeeper at John D. Marcella & Son Appliances in Schenectady is accused of embezzling possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company over a three-year period.
Carrie Lafond, 41, of Schenectady, was arraigned Thursday and pleaded not guilty. She is formally accused of taking more than $50,000 from the business, but investigators are continuing to tally the total amount and say it could far exceed $50,000.
Lafond worked at the family-owned company for about three years, officials said. The thefts allegedly began in April 2011, shortly after her 90-day probationary period was up, company officials said.
The thefts weren’t discovered until March, when a bank inquiry set off a full-scale investigation that quickly led to Lafond.
“She had a position of trust,” prosecutor Jennifer Assini said after Thursday’s arraignment. “She ended up paying her own personal credit cards and bills using the business account.”
Lafond was released on her own recognizance. She is represented by attorney E. Stewart Jones, who declined comment.
Lafond’s husband is Paul Lafond, deputy director of water and wastewater for the city of Schenectady. He is not suspected of any wrongdoing, officials said.
The revelations that followed the discovery of the missing cash hit the tight-knit company hard. The appliance dealer has operated in Schenectady for 67 years and employs 36. Owner John Marcella Sr. treats his employees like family, said company manager Lori Juliano, herself a 30-year employee. Lafond is accused of forging her signature, as well as John Marcella Sr.’s.
“What has happened has devastated us all,” Juliano said Thursday at the company’s Broadway headquarters.
She said Lafond started at the company in early 2011 and performed well during her probationary period. Lafond then became part of the Marcella family, Juliano said, even bringing food in for her co-workers.
She did that all while endangering her co-workers’ jobs, officials said. Cash-flow problems now attributed to Lafond’s alleged thefts are believed to have been a major factor in service staff layoffs the company went through last year, Juliano said.
She said Lafond always had a plausible explanation when money came up short.
For John Marcella Jr., grandson of the owner, Lafond’s apparent dual personality was the most difficult part of the situation to take.
“The hardest part was watching someone be able to look you in the face every day and smile and act like they were a part of your family or a friend,” he said. “To see what they were doing and the steps that they took to do something like this … it wasn’t somebody that didn’t know what they were doing. It was somebody that completely knew what they were doing. It was an intelligent process.”
Lafond is believed to have pocketed money earmarked to pay vendors and bills, Juliano said. Those are bills that the company still owes, but she said banks and vendors have been working with the company.
She said both she and John Marcella Sr. are now looking at the bank accounts several times a day and a CPA is now doing the job Lafond was supposed to have been doing.
“I am forever looking at that bank account,” Juliano said. “Unfortunately it took this terrible thing to happen to us, but we won’t be blindsided by that ever again.”
The case is being investigated by the Schenectady Police Department and Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office. Lafond faces one count each of second-degree grand larceny, first-degree forgery and first-degree falsifying business records, all felonies.
There have been other large embezzlements in the Capital Region in recent years.
In January 2011, around the time Lafond started at Marcella’s, an employee at Golub Corp., was accused of taking $300,000 over the previous 10 years. She was later sentenced to one to three years in prison after she gave up a $200,000 benefits package to pay back part of what she took.
A bookkeeper at Rotterdam window and insulation business Huff N Puff took nearly $500,000 before he was discovered in 2010, almost ruining the business. He ultimately was sentenced to six to 18 years in prison after failing to come up with more than a small portion of the money he stole.