The chronic embezzlement of funds from the Star Valley Veterinary Clinic to feed a shopping addiction of one employee has left Arizona’s top clinic in ruins.
Two people lost their jobs, the owner maxed out his savings and staff took a cut in benefits to cover the cost of Tomi Ann Kennedy’s greed. On Monday, a Superior Court judge sentenced Kennedy, 42, of Payson, to five years probation, a year in jail and payment of full economic restitution after she pleaded guilty to theft.
Over the course of 108 months, Kennedy took at least $116,000 from the clinic to cover her own bills and purchase items from the auction site eBay.
Through a complicated web of lies and deception, Kennedy would pocket cash from grief-stricken customers after a euthanasia, cash clinic checks in her name and help herself to nightly deposits.
Kennedy stood by and watched as two other employees were fired for her thefts and accused nearly every other employee of similar actions.
It wasn’t until a bookkeeper uncovered a deposit on Jan. 21, 2010 that was never made that clinic owner Alan Hallman suspected Kennedy.
Even then, it would take hundreds of more hours and the use of forensic computer software to pin Kennedy for the thefts.
Hallman said Kennedy was one of his most trusted employees and had full financial access to everything in the business. The damage to trust among employees at the clinic has left the clinic at a loss.
“I have come to realize the tremendous trickle down effect of chronic embezzlement,” Hallman said. “The emotional toll on me, my family and my employees and their families has been profound. Mistrust, suspicion, disbelief, anger, resentment and fear are all emotions that are stoked by Ms. Kennedy’s theft.”
Through tears, Kennedy said at sentencing that she was sorry for her actions and was glad to have been caught and fired because “I knew it would never happen again.”
Kennedy said she couldn’t stop herself from stealing even after she knew Hallman had installed tracking software on clinic computers.
Hallman hired Kennedy in August of 2001 to run the front desk and be the “first impression” for the business. As early as November 2002, Kennedy began stealing clinic funds.
From one client, bookkeeper Elizabeth Hanewinckel found Kennedy took at least $4,500 away from the clinic.
And the thefts continued, with Kennedy taking on average $1,000 a month.
Hallman realized something was going on and when he came to Kennedy for an answer, she implicated at least two other employees for the missing money.
Hallman fired both of those employees and current employee Susan Starr believes she could have been next.
“Tomi’s next individual victim was supposed to be me,” she said. “She put my initials on many of her criminal transactions.”
According to a presentencing report, Kennedy used the money to pay bills, get groceries and pay for eBay purchases. In one year, Kennedy took as much as $22,000, Hallman said.
Even so, she is delinquent on mortgage payments and facing foreclosure, the presenting report states.
For Hallman, the cost of the thefts is indescribable.
After 27 years in business, the clinic has run at a loss for the last three years, “undoubtedly due to the chronic drain of funds because of Ms. Kennedy’s thievery,”
In addition, Hallman has maxed out two credit cards, borrowed from his retirement savings and used all of his personal savings to keep the business and 10 people employed.
Hallman cut vacation time from 13 days a year to five, stripped employer contributions to retirement accounts and eliminated health insurance, Starr said
“Tomi is very dangerous,” she said. “There is nothing redeeming about Tomi Kennedy. Nothing.”
Since her firing, Kennedy has sent letters of apology to all current employees.
Kennedy said she is ashamed and distraught by her actions, especially to those she considered family and friends.
A therapist diagnosed Kennedy as clinically depressed, said Kennedy’s attorney Elizabeth Flynn.
Since then, she has sought therapy and spiritual counseling for her problems.
“I am not going to make any excuses for Tomi and she is not gong to make any excuses,” Flynn said.
Kennedy knows what she did was wrong and wants to make up for it with restitution.
So far, Kennedy has saved up $7,000 and is committed to paying $200 a month to Hallman, Flynn said.
At that rate, it will take Kennedy 45 years to repay, minus interest.
Kennedy said she lives with the guilt of her actions and punishes herself every day.
“It is only me to blame,” she said.
Kennedy will serve a year in jail and be eligible for work release May 1, 2012. She will serve another five years of probation.
Kennedy was convicted of shoplifting near the start of her employment with Hallman, Cahill noted.
Last year, the Veterinary Healthcare Team of Arizona named the Star Valley Veterinary Clinic the top health care team in the state.