Ex-controller embezzles $8.7 million from construction firm, goes on classic car spending spree

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Nov 27, 2019

Shutterstock 1094835209Apparently a 1969 Ford Shelby GT500 is a necessary addition to contractor’s fleet.

Two Shelbys — a convertible and a two door, both valued at $160,000 — were part of the loot purchased by the ex-controller of a construction firm, who set up a residential construction company to bilk Pittsburgh-area Marco Contractors out of $8.7 million. Seemingly fans of classic cars, Sue O’Neill, 55, and her unidentified business partner used the stolen funds to buy a 1953 Mercury Monterey, 1966 Pontiac two-door GTO, 1969 Ford Mustang and a 1978 Chevy 2T Corvette.

Along the way they managed to buy some more traditional construction equipment, including a couple of trailers, a compact track loader and compact excavator.

O’Neill entered plea of guilty in September and will pay mandatory restitution as directed by the court, including $428,710 in back taxes and fines. She is subject up to 20 years in prison; sentencing is scheduled for March 26th.

According to an October 31st court filing,  O’Neill started embezzling from the commercial general contracting firm in 2009. Over the years she issued $6.7 million in checks from Marco that were directly deposited into the account of Bulldog Contractors, a firm O’Neill owned with another person. Another $2 million went into O’Neill’s personal bank account, according to a press release issued by the Western District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney’s Office.

(The additional person was not identified in court documents beyond the initials “R.G.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that “online records indicate that Bulldog is owned by Robin L. Gabel.”)

O’Neill also defrauded Marco’s concrete flooring subsidiary, Rockertz Incorporated. She is liable for $8.5 million in restitution to Marco Contractors and $215,000 in restitution to Rockerz.


Crime of opportunity

The two Shelbys don’t even rank as the most expensive item we’ve reported on that’s been purchased by a construction-related embezzler. Those honors go to a $900,000 first-edition Batman comic bought by Anthony Chiofalo, who received a 40-year sentence in 2014 after embezzling $9 million from crane maker Tadano America.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

It also points to the mind set of many embezzlers, say experts. The initial crime starts with a perceived need, but can quickly evolve into luxury buys.

Embezzlement is a crime of opportunity, reports Marquet International, a business risk consultant. Marquet says more than 70 percent of those who embezzle hold financial positions within a company, from bookkeeper to chief financial officer.

Experts say there is no “embezzler profile.” They could be almost almost anyone; indeed, most are first-time offenders with clean employment histories, says the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t red flags. These include a sudden flash of wealth, a territorial attitude to their office space and a reluctance to take vacations. (Go here for the Top 10 signs you may be being embezzled.)

O’Neill and her partner used a common embezzlement tactic: setting up a fake vendor. Other schemes include:

Altered checks: After a check is signed, the embezzler alters the amount or the name on the check. Instead of paying $1,000, a company is paying $11,000 with the embezzler pocketing the difference.

Lagging receivables: Client A pays on time and some or most of their payment is diverted to the embezzler. When Client B pays, their payment goes into Client A’s account, and so on down the line.

Diverted supplies: Embezzlers place an order for three computers, and the company receives one while the other two are sold on eBay.

Phantom employees: An employee may have left your company last year but payroll is still cutting them a check — giving the embezzler a bonus.