Just the kind of news we don’t want to hear. A judge sentenced a paralegal to 16 months in prison for embezzling more than $600,000 from a West Hartford law firm, the New York Lawyer reported today.
Karen Davis-Jenkins was found guilty of taking more than $600,000 from the Law Offices of Jefferson D. Jelly from 1997 until May 2005. The law firm is a sole proprietorship and employs up to five attorneys.
Davis-Jennings worked primarily on personal injury cases, handled financial books and was in charge of payroll and paying bills. She was even asked her to handle some of Jelly’s personal finances related to his mother, who suffered from dementia and lived in an assisted living facility.
Davis-Jennings, who resides in Bloomfield, began gambling regularly in 1998 at Mohegan Sun casino and began writing checks from the law office’s checking account, over which she was given signatory authority, to cover mortgage and personal credit card bills totaling $265,118. She also used a debit card that had been issued in the names of Jelly and his mother to cover personal bills totaling $243,383.
Compounding the fraud, Davis-Jenning signed Jelly’s mother’s signature on $82,385 worth of checks. As an added "bonus", Davis-Jennings falsely represented that she worked overtime and gave herself an extra $96,788.
As if that’s not enough, the New York Law Journal found an expert willing to claim that this case represents a surge in embezzlement in law firms that may be due to hard economic times.
Tammy Hailey, executive director for NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals, states that lawyers are better off handling finances themselves. Lawyers also should not ask paralegals to handle finances if that’s really not their expertise, she claims. And, further, she says, lawyers need to watch ethical boundaries such as Davis-Jennings’s handling of her boss’s mother’s finances.
The expert recommends that lawyers should get better employee dishonesty insurance policies. He said most firms that call him report suspected employee financial malfeasance and lack proper insurance coverage. I’m telling you, one rotten apple……