Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the July 13 print editions of The Times-Sentinel, Star-Argosy and Haysville Sun-Times. To get local coverage first, subscribe to your hometown newspaper. Call 316-540-0500.
By Sam Jack
Embezzlement by two former employees of Times-Sentinel Newspapers totaled more than $200,000, according to a Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office investigator.
In affidavits, investigator Kristen E. Zluticky reported that thefts started Jan. 8, 2010, when former Times-Sentinel office manager Diane R. Neises began writing unauthorized checks to herself. She kept writing checks until Dec. 6, 2013.
Neises wrote 168 unauthorized checks, ranging in amount from $130 to $641. She admitted to forging Times-Sentinel publisher and co-owner Paul Rhodes’ signature on most of the checks. Rhodes also signed some blank checks after Neises told him she needed them to make payments at the post office.
After writing checks to herself, Neises logged into the office’s bookkeeping program and created entries that reflected payments to vendors used by Times-Sentinel.
Neises’s thefts were discovered after a Citizens State Bank of Cheney employee alerted Rhodes, and co-owner and managing editor Travis Mounts, to suspicious checks deposited by Neises’ daughter, Victoria J. Vinciguerra.
A full review of financial records led to the discovery of years of thefts by both Vinciguerra and Neises.
“We want to extend our thanks to the staff members at Citizens State Bank, who ultimately caught this trail of forgeries and theft,” Rhodes said. “They acted promptly upon the discovery in March of this year, and worked diligently with us and authorities to get to the bottom of this.”
Vinciguerra took over as office manager in January 2014, and the gap between the last alleged theft by Neises and the first by Vinciguerra was less than a month, according to Zluticky.
Vinciguerra was trained in her job by Neises, and her embezzlement technique was nearly identical to that of her mother. Vinciguerra wrote checks to herself, then altered entries in QuickBooks to reflect payments to Times-Sentinel vendors. Like Neises, she admitted to repeatedly forging Rhodes’ signature.
Between Jan. 2, 2014, and March 22, 2017, Vinciguerra wrote 238 unauthorized checks totaling $160,123.61. The amounts ranged from $284 to $850.
“We were shocked to discover that these two individuals, who were trusted employees, had been stealing from us over the course of their employment with us,” Rhodes said.
While the total sum of money stolen was quite substantial, Rhodes said that the thefts were spread out systematically to avoid raising alarms.
“We simply believed, based on the financial statements that were being generated by these individuals, that we were continuing to operate on a relatively small profit margin, or at a small loss,” Rhodes said.
Mounts said that once the string of thefts and forgeries was discovered, he and Rhodes acted quickly to put checks and balances in place and prevent such an incident from happening again.
“Our readers and advertisers can rest assured that, while this was a substantial loss, this will in no way threaten the future of this newspaper group and our continued operations,” Mounts said. “We have worked hard over the years to build a respected and financially viable newspaper operation, and those efforts will continue.”
The owners said that they are working with authorities so that justice can be served and so that the company can recoup as much of its losses as possible through restitution and the insurance coverage carried on the business.
Preliminary hearings in Neises’ and Vinciguerra’s felony theft cases are scheduled for July 18 and Aug. 9, respectively.