Lessons for small businesses after a Pinellas theft arrest - WRBL

Lessons for small businesses after a Pinellas theft arrest

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Laura Spaulding Laura Spaulding
One of the checks Julie Cockrum is accused of forging One of the checks Julie Cockrum is accused of forging
PINELLAS COUNTY, FL -

Laura Spaulding is used to crime scenes.

Her company, Spaulding Decon, is often called in to clean up sites involving homicides, hoarding and other incidents.

But this spring, she discovered signs of a crime scene close to home and surprises that proved to be some tough lessons for the small business owner.

Spaulding says she made the discovery while looking for something in her online bank records.

"I clicked on the image and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that's not my signature,'" said Spaulding, president of Spaulding Decon.

Spaulding says she discovered her employee, Julie Cockrum, had been writing checks out to herself and forging Spaulding's signature. The checks, from Spaulding Decon and another company account, totaled about $40,000.

Cockrum is charged with forgery and grand theft. Her attorney declined comment for the case.

After Cockrum's arrest, Spaulding learned her one-time staff accountant also had a felony worthless check warrant for her arrest in Tennessee.

Spaulding said she had ordered a background check on Cockrum before hiring her, but the warrant didn't show up on that report. Hire Right, the California-based company Spaulding used for the background check, did not return multiple messages from News Channel 8.

"I would have never hired her if I would have known that," Spaulding said. "I told them, I was like, you just made me lose $40,000."

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners said while it can't comment on details of a specific case, warrants are considered in a pre-employment background screening on a case-by-case basis by background screening professionals in accordance with state and federal law."

Private investigator R.J. Trasorras, who is not involved in this case, said warrants aren't automatically included in searches, which are more like an a la carte system.

"It's always best to get very clear instruction and clarification on both ends of what's being ordered," he said. "If you come and solicit a client and say, ‘I'll do a background check,' and there's really nothing else, then of course you're going to assume I'm getting everything under the sun."

Separate searches have to be run in different states to get various pieces of information on the person you're researching, he said.

Cockrum's warrant in Williamson County, TN was issued in 2010, before Cockrum started working at Spaulding Decon. Searches through the Williamson County Sheriff's Office on an individual in that county would show warrants issued by that agency, a sheriff's office spokeswoman said.

Dealing with the financial fallout of the alleged theft, Spaulding got two more surprises.

She says her insurance company told her the incident wasn't covered because she didn't have "employee dishonesty insurance.  And her bank, Bay Cities Bank, only offered to reimburse for $5,000 of the nearly $40,000 in checks that got through the system, Spaulding said.

"I just assumed this was a normal thing, banks have insurance for this type of thing and they would reimburse their clients," Spaulding said. "And I was very wrong."

In a letter provided to News Channel 8 by Spaulding, an attorney representing the bank told her attorney that, "Even in this small business, there should have been some procedures and safeguards put in place which would have precluded these forgeries from occurring, or insured that if they did they were discovered quickly."

Spaulding, however, says Cockrum was removing the check images from bank statements before she saw them, preventing her from picking up on the forgeries. Spaulding says she believes the bank is responsible for reimbursing for at least the last 30 days of the incident, totaling more than $5,000.

Bay Cities Bank did not return multiple messages left by News Channel 8.

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