Centreville's Edward Brabham, 61, is a church-going man who had never been in trouble with the law before. So why started stealing from his employer is a mystery.
BUT ONCE he began dipping into the cookie jar, he went back, time and time again, until he was finally caught. By then, he'd embezzled some $239,000. And last Friday in Loudoun County Circuit Court, he was sentenced to four months in jail, restitution and community service.
"He's had absolutely no involvement in the criminal justice system in the past," said defense attorney Bob Anderson, prior to Brabham's sentencing. "And I told him this was the dumbest thing I ever saw."
Brabham worked at the front counter of United Rentals, on the Chantilly/Loudoun border. At some point, he began taking checks made out to the heavy-equipment rental company. He then floated the funds between United Rentals and his personal accounts.
"He was an accounts-payable clerk," said Anderson. "Checks came in from customers, and he stamped them 'for deposit only - ECB Associates.' And when the checks cleared, he wrote checks on ECB Associates letterhead — which is him — back to United Rentals."
Anderson said the original checks usually cleared in a couple days, and Brabham's reimbursement checks were always for the exact amount he'd taken — right to the penny. But then, said Anderson, "He got behind $40,000."
MEMBERS OF the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes Section began investigating embezzlement allegations against Brabham in May 2004 and arrested him at his home in Centreville in July 2004.
It was eventually revealed that his illegal deeds had gone on for a year-and-a-half and involved 44 checks. On July 31 in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Brabham was convicted of five counts of embezzlement. He returned Friday, May 13, for sentencing before Judge Burke F. McCahill.
Anderson said the checks — several of which between $8,000 and $9,000 — were from various contractors to United Rentals. "Of the 44 checks, all but seven were paid back."
Added Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Vernail: "SunTrust Bank paid $40,352 to United Rentals to settle the complaint."
Anderson then argued that some of the charges against his client should be lumped together to reduce his state sentencing guidelines from as much as five years in prison to probation. But, countered Vernail, "We could have charged [him with] 44 counts."
"Didn't the 44 checks equal $239,000?" asked the judge, who agreed with Vernail about the guidelines.
"Yes," replied Anderson. However, he said, "If [Brabham] was attempting to conceal anything, he did it in a most inept way. He paid all that money back, with the exception of the $40,000. And he'll pay that, too; he's working two jobs and has already made three $300 payments."
Nonetheless, said the prosecutor, "What happened is clear. The $40,000 still owed is a lot of money — and $239,000 over a year-and-a-half is an extraordinary amount of money. In a business making [lots of money each month], these checks easily slipped under the radar."
Vernail said the low end of the guidelines call for two years behind bars, and McCahill noted that "alternative punishment" is also suggested. "That's because of Mr. Brabham's age and because he has a lack of a record," explained Vernail. "Incarceration is appropriate — a sentence of one year on each count, consecutively, for a total of five years — is sufficient. He deserves some jail time — a minimum of 12 months."
JUDGE MCCAHILL THEN asked Anderson what "alternative punishment" he'd recommend, and Anderson said restitution plus community service. The judge asked if community service would make it harder for Brabham to continue to work two jobs to make restitution.
Before being sentenced, Brabham stood and addressed the court. Reiterating his age and noting how involved he is in his church, he said, "I accept full responsibility for what happened. And I ask for the court to have mercy over me and give me a chance to redeem myself."
"[What you did] probably confounded the court as much as it did your attorney," McCahill told the slender, bearded, gray-haired man. "This is a head-scratcher — this doesn't make sense in several respects. The scheme is not very smart, from a criminal standpoint — not covering your tracks. And you have, by all accounts, lived a very good life and not been involved in crime."
But, said the judge, "This employer placed a lot of trust in you, and you breached that trust. Embezzlement is typically a series of crimes — the Commonwealth could have charged you with 44 crimes. And your thefts were pretty significant amounts."
"In each case, you could have stopped and reflected about what you were doing and stopped doing it," said McCahill. "But you didn't — you continued on. And no matter how much money a business or corporation makes, it's still a theft. It's money they were entitled to — [that] they earned and you took."
He then sentenced Brabham to a year in jail on each count, running the sentences consecutively. He suspended all but four months of that time and placed Brabham on indefinite, supervised probation until his restitution is paid in full. The judge also ordered him to complete a substance-abuse prevention program. He authorized Brabham to be placed on work release and also ordered him to perform 150 hours of community service at his church.