Second Bear Wallow embezzlement case heads to trial
May 15, 2018
A 9th Judicial District judge said Tuesday there is enough evidence to take a second embezzlement case to trial involving a husband and wife who are accused of stealing more than $1 million dollars from a New Castle-area ranch they managed for almost 30 years.
Judge Denise Lynch said she decided to move Charla Farris' case to trial because a judge's responsibility in a preliminary hearing is to view testimony and evidence in favor of the prosecution.
She added that prosecution testimony in court Tuesday warranted additional court hearings and that Charla and Zane Farris, who are accused of felony theft, have acknowledged in tape recordings that they exercised "bad judgment" while managing the ranch.
The Farrises appeared in court for separate preliminary hearings Monday and Tuesday. Both stand accused of miscoding and misspending company checks, stealing and reselling merchandise for their own personal gain, and paying themselves and their family additional unauthorized salaries.
Joe Rogers, chairman of Waffle House Inc., and his wife Fran Rogers are owners of the Bear Wallow Ranch. They told investigators they noticed the alleged theft when Charla, the bookkeeper at the time, had asked for more money than she should have needed.
Joe Rogers maintains that he had just deposited $50,000 into the company's account, which should have been enough to manage the ranch, and that the incident led him and his wife to review old checks and other expenses that Charla authorized.
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This is where they say they generated abundant proof of theft.
The Rogerses testified briefly at Charla's preliminary hearing, and both said she would often record an expense in the company's books and then write a check to an unauthorized, unknown vendor for a different amount.
They said that, although they were able to verify thousands of fraudulent checks during the investigation, they believe there is even more fraud since a host of records went missing when the Farrises were terminated from the ranch.
"Most of the telling receipts were not in the file," Fran Rogers said in the courtroom.
Charla Farris' attorney, David Baller, restated in court that the lead investigator, Megan Alstatt, relied solely on Fran Rogers' documents for investigation and hadn't interviewed the vendors who allegedly received the fraudulent payments herself.
Kathy Goudy, who represented Zane Farris on Monday, called a forensics-certified public accountant to the stand Monday. She testified that she hadn't found any evidence of theft while reviewing the same expense records.
But Alstatt defended her research saying, "Without a complaining victim, I wouldn't even know what to start looking at."
Attorneys for Charla Farris pressed Fran Rogers and Alstatt about a company policy, saying that if it had laid out job responsibilities, there would be no confusion about which checks needed authorization.
They also said Charla Farris should have received training in Quickbooks, the system she used to enter expenses.
"I really didn't get involved in ranch operation until this mess," said Fran Rogers, who now works as the bookkeeper at the ranch.
She's also president of an organization called "Checks and Balances," a company that processes payroll and pays taxes. She said she didn't take on the responsibility of managing the ranch herself because she and her husband trusted the Farrises.
Fran Rogers said it should have been common sense to avoid miscoding checks and stealing from the property, adding that the theft was intentional and had nothing to do with lack of training on the company's system.
She said that, since she replaced Charla as the bookkeeper, she's cut the payroll in half, bringing the staff from nine employees to two.
Still, another of Charla Farris' attorneys, Richard Kornfeld, contended, "We don't believe the criminal complaint and allegations adequately reflect what happened at Bear Wallow Ranch while the Farrises were there. Mrs. Farris will continue to vigorously defend herself."
Both of the Farrises are scheduled to reappear in front of Judge Lynch on May 31. Both remain free on bond in the meantime.
They are each charged with two counts of theft, 10 counts of identity theft, and five counts of taxation/tax evasion, according to court documents.
Their two adult sons, Tyler and Dustin Farris, also face felony theft charges stemming from what prosecutors have described as a family effort. They, too, are being tried separately.