Here’s a tip to keep yourself out of prison: When you find a glitch in your employer’s check-writing software program, do not (repeat do not) write a small check to yourself. If you do, you’ll probably write another. And then another. And then several more.
At least, that’s what Ryan Homa did — until he stole $1.3 million in about 3½ years from a large Wisconsin manufacturing firm where he worked as the chief accountant.
During Wednesday’s closing general session of the 29th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference, ACFE Vice President – Education John D. Gill, J.D., CFE, interviewed Homa about the crimes he committed and the business environment in which he worked.
“It doesn’t take any courage to steal but it does take a lot of courage to stand in front of a roomful of people and say, ‘Yes, I’m a thief, and I did something wrong,' ” Gill said to the attendees. “So, anybody who’s willing to come up here and say or do that gets a lot of respect from me. … He’s one of the most honest fraudsters I have ever interviewed.”
Homa said that when he first started working at the firm he just wanted to be a good accountant. One day he noticed a flaw in the company’s accounting software. “You would create the check and the program would ask, ‘Would you like to print?’ And of course you’d say, ‘Yes,’ ” he said. “A prompt would … ask, ‘Did the check print properly?’ … I found out if you hit ‘no’ then it would bring you back to the previous screen, and you could manipulate the check you’ve already printed,” he said. “And then after you manipulate the check you get to save it again and then pull it. My discovery was that you could print a completely legitimate check and change the information in the computer to say something else.”
Homa didn’t immediately begin to write checks to himself. He went to the IT department, but it told him the fix would cost $3,000. The owners didn’t want to spend the money. So, the temptation now existed.
Three months into his tenure with the company, Homa said that he realized that he wasn’t a good fit with the company. “There were just a lot of things I was seeing behind closed doors that I saw as a little two-faced,” he said. And he became disgruntled because he thought the company was playing favorites with employees. “I was convincing myself that I was being taken advantage of,” he said. “It reached a point where I felt that it was my turn.”
One day he realized that he couldn’t pay his home mortgage because of poor financial planning. So, he used the accounting software anomaly to write himself enough money to cover the mortgage bill. “I’ll take this and put it back next month,” Homa said to himself. Of course, he didn’t do that. In the first six months of his embezzlement, he’d write himself checks for “weird small amounts. … But as time went on the checks got more frequent and for greater amounts,” he said. “I got complacent and extremely lazy, and the last two or 2½ years that I was there I made every check out to $9,812.54. I will never ever forget that number as long as I live.”
Homa’s stealing began to take a toll. Every day, he said, he was falling into more depression and self-hate. Eventually, he had two nervous breakdowns on the job. “I reached the point where I was barely functioning as a human,” he said. The company let him go, and then later discovered the theft and prosecuted him.
Homa served 22 months in prison. He has to pay money to satisfy a civil ruling, for criminal restitution and to the IRS for back taxes.
He’s deeply in debt, but an old friend has given him at a position at a small screenprinting and embroidery shop. “My first job after I was fired … was a ‘garbage-taker-outer’ and the floor sweeper, and I made $9.50 an hour,” he said. “The first paycheck I got from him I had an ear-to-ear smile because … there might be a glimmer of hope.”