UCON – Stan Hawkins knows all too well what it’s like to put your trust in someone and have them throw it all away.
Hawkins, the owner of C.E. Hawkins and Son, a farm equipment supplier in Ucon, says he employed Melanie Riffitt-Bailey in May 2022 to take over as their office manager after his wife’s mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Now, she is serving a prison sentence for stealing over $115,000 from the company.
On Jan. 22, District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. sentenced Melanie Riffitt-Bailey, 48, to a minimum of one and a half years and a maximum of 10 years in prison for felony grand theft.
The sentencing agreement was made through a mediation, in which Riffitt-Bailey agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge, and the prosecution agreed to dismiss a remaining charge of felony acquiring a financial transaction card with intent to defraud.
“My wife thought she had a close enough relationship with Melanie that she would be watching out for her,” says Hawkins. “My wife has done our books for many years, and had some oversight over it, but my wife was preoccupied with the cancer battle that her mother was going through, so the books didn’t get the same oversight they might’ve otherwise.”
In September 2022, Riffitt-Bailey was fired, after Hawkins discovered she had been billing them for hours she hadn’t worked. What he didn’t know was even worse.
According to court documents, a Bonneville County Sheriff’s deputy was contacted by Hawkins on Dec. 14, 2022, after Hawkins discovered Riffitt-Bailey had been embezzling money from the business.
“The money that should’ve been in the business account to pay all of our fall invoices just simply wasn’t adequate,” says Hawkins. “So, our accountant provided us with a forensic auditor. They came up here and went through everything and found it.”
Police reports say the company’s bank sent them four new company credit cards, but due to the rates and cost, Hawkins decided not to use them and let them sit and eventually expire.
What he didn’t know is that Riffitt-Bailey stole two of the credit cards and changed the email address with the bank to her own.
Police say she also made sure to pick up the bank statements before anyone else got to the mail and was making the credit card payments online from the company’s bank account.
“The actual embezzlement was $115,000 and change,” says Hawkins. “The last bank payment was stopped, and then the next month was not paid at all, it was for two more bill cycles in addition to the $98,000. The total loss was around $115,000.”
Deputies say Riffitt-Bailey was embezzling for nearly seven months, making purchases at boutiques, makeup stores, and even for first-class airline tickets to go on vacation.
“How could you buy a first class plane ticket and go on vacation with somebody else’s money?” says Hawkins. “We’ve never flown first class in our lives, and probably won’t ever. But she didn’t feel a bit bad about putting first class tickets on my credit card.”
Deputies interviewed Riffitt-Bailey in December 2022, who claimed Hawkins had given her the credit card “for whatever I wanted to use it for.”
When asked if she used the credit card recently, Riffitt-Bailey responded, “What do you want me to say?” and said Hawkins “did (her) dirty.”
She also claimed “she was overworked, only paid $20 an hour, told she was worthless, fired from her job, never received her last paycheck, never received a bonus she was entitled to, filed a discrimination suit against (Hawkins) and that the company was ‘mentally abusive to her.'”
When told she had charged nearly $93,000 to the credit cards, she denied the charges.
As part of her sentence, she is also required to pay back a total of $95,211.68 to the credit card company.
“There’s no way she’ll ever be able to repay much of this, because she’ll be unemployable basically with this felony charge and serving time in prison,” says Hawkins. “I think it’s important … that people understand there are consequences to stealing other people’s money.”
Hawkins says the credit card company has agreed to reimburse them for some of the money they lost but he notes his business could’ve easily went under because of the embezzlement.
“We spend a lot of time doing repair work to make sure that all of our manufacturers and people we do business with knew we were going to be able to stand this,” said Hawkins. “We spent a lot of money out of pocket that doesn’t even fit into the actual loss number just doing those kinds of things.”
Now, he is making a point to tell small-business owners what to look out for to avoid the court expenses overall losses he experienced.
“The owner of the business needs to be checking employees, looking at bank statements, looking at financial statements, and even then, if you get a very cunning, accomplished fraudster, there’s no amount of caution that can compensate for that. You’re at risk,” said Hawkins. “It’s important that our legal system offer up a deterrent before it happens. Some meaningful jail sentences, which I think they did in this case.”