Publication:The Gazette; Date:Nov 12, 2000; Section:A SECTION; Page Number:1|
'The year of the embezzler'/ Trusted bookkeeper's theft left Springs company and lives in ruins
Danielle Nieves; The Gazette
Randy Selvage had a face and a faith that made everyone trust him.
The towering, 310-pound bookkeeper played gospel music at work, kept a Bible on his desk and decorated his office with a calendar of the Psalms. He had a charming Southern accent, what co-workers described as a "squishy face" and a habit of giving hearty hugs or a friendly pat on the back.
"He looks like everybody's favorite uncle ... only younger," former co-worker Katie Williamson said.
Today, everyone's favorite uncle is in the slammer, his God-fearing facade unmasked as a fraud, a way to gain people's trust while he picked money from their pockets.
In March, 45-year-old Selvage pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft for embezzling at least $70,000 from a Colorado Springs construction company. He was sentenced to 12 years in state prison and five years of mandatory parole. Selvage's wife and lawyer did not return calls from The Gazette.
Selvage left a 20-year-old daughter and his wife of 24 years with a mountain of debt and unpaid creditors. He bankrupted a young company, throwing about 30 workers out on the street. He deeply wounded the company's owner, J.D. Farmer, who considered Selvage his brother.
And it wasn't the first time: Selvage bankrupted a South Carolina construction company in 1988. He spent just a few months in prison for that crime.
'The year of the embezzler'
Selvage's betrayal of co-workers and family is not an uncommon story in Colorado Springs. Veteran Colorado Springs police Sgt. Dick Reisler, who investigates major crimes, calls 2000 "the year of the embezzler."
Detectives in his division have been inundated with embezzlement cases. In fact, investigators have so many cases they must choose only those with the highest losses and the highest chance of a conviction.
From January 1999 through October of this year, the Economic Crime Division of the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office has filed 31 embezzlement cases, in which El Paso County businesses lost at least $1.2 million. It's a jump from 1998, when the office filed 15 cases, totaling $602,200 in losses.
Although many embezzlements go unreported, Reisler said, there's enough bald-faced stealing out there to frequently make headlines:
Last month, Terry Sanoff, the 52-year-old director of the Child Development Center of Colorado Springs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing $197,000 from the center, which treats children with developmental disorders.
In June, former Foothills Elementary School parent Anne Schenk pleaded guilty to embezzling from a playground equipment fund and agreed to pay back more than $19,000.
In March, Gary and Linda Hurt, who owned a property management firm in Colorado Springs, pleaded guilty to stealing $270,000 from 49 clients. Gary Hurt served 64 days in jail, and both he and his wife will be on probation for 10 years.
In 1999, in perhaps the most notorious embezzlement case in recent history, three men - David Selaya, David Heinke and Jay Beaman - were sent to prison for stealing about $2 million from King Soopers. They spent the money on Las Vegas gambling trips, expensive cars and travel to the Bahamas and Alaska.
Reisler said there are common themes behind the rise in embezzlements: The economy has made employers less picky about hiring. Employees are less loyal to employers. Many workers lack a work ethic. And Americans, spoiled after a decade of economic growth, have developed a need for material possessions.
"It's part of an 'I want it now' society," he said.
Betrayal of trust
Embezzlement may be a white-collar crime, but that doesn't mean people aren't left bleeding.
"It's easier for people to accept that a stranger walked into a store, put a gun in your face and demanded your money," Reisler said "People don't understand it, but they can accept it."
Although such crimes have a tremendous financial impact on businesses and their employees, an embezzler's betrayal of trust is often even more devastating, Reisler said.
Trust had never come easy for Selvage's victim, J.D. Farmer, now 43. He endured a abusive home life as the youngest of five children. Scars still mar his face. Long afterward, he was angry. Then he found religion.
He worked briefly as a facilities manager at Focus on the Family while the Christian ministry was based in California. It was there he met his wife, Jill. They moved to Colorado Springs in 1991.
Four years ago, Farmer started Champion Maintenance and Paint. He built it into a company with a net worth of $1.1 million.
He had little time or expertise to manage the firm's finances. He met Randy Selvage through a local employment agency that claimed to have done background checks on all its job candidates.
The two men immediately hit it off; their faith in God bonded them.
And Selvage's glowing resume didn't hurt: five years of experience supervising a department of 300-plus employees at Focus on the Family. Seven years as office manager for a construction company in South Carolina.
Investigators later marveled at Selvage's audacity: His resume listed a ministry that had fired him and a company from which he had reportedly stolen $2 million.
No reason to suspect 'brother'
Farmer hired Selvage in the summer of 1998, entrusting him to supervise employees and assist in the financial and bookkeeping end of the business. Farmer concentrated on keeping clients happy, winning new ones - and remodeling an expensive home in northeast Colorado Springs to use as a showcase.
Katie Williamson, a former Champion employee, said Selvage was friendly and social. He even promised to take over some of her duties during her maternity leave.
"A lot of that behavior is necessary for a criminal," Williamson said later. "You have to have the trust in order to breach it."
Soon after Selvage's hiring, the company began losing money. Its credit began to slide; bills were paid late or not at all. Still, Farmer had no reason to suspect his "brother," even when workers' paychecks bounced just before Christmas.
"Young businesses expect to have problems," Farmer said. "Nobody's thinking embezzlement."
While gospel music wafted from his office radio, Selvage was depleting existing business accounts, opening fake accounts under the company's name for his own use and stealing checks made out to vendors.
Creditors were soon lining up for payment, but Selvage kept his co-workers' suspicions at bay by refusing to let them open letters or answer calls from creditors.
"He had established control," Farmer said. Selvage told employees: "'When it comes to financial stuff, J.D. doesn't want to know.'"
Selvage opened an American Express credit card account under the company's name. He used the card for cash advances, which he stuffed into the accounts from which he was stealing in a last-ditch attempt to hide the embezzlements. Selvage even used the card to pay for a Walt Disney World family vacation.
He returned with souvenirs and gave them to Farmer as gifts.
'The sky's green'
In early March, Farmer confronted Selvage with evidence he and a financial consultant had gathered to find out why the company was bleeding money.
Selvage initially admitted in a meeting with Farmer that he stole $4,000, but later wrote in a confession letter he had taken $15,000.
He said he intended it to be a loan that he would eventually pay back. Farmer gave him four days to pay back the money before calling police. Selvage did not return the money.
When asked why he took the money, Selvage told Farmer he wanted to "buy nice things" for his wife and daughter.
But detectives said the Selvages lived in a modest home, with inexpensive furnishings and an average car.
The next week, Farmer sat in his office with Williamson and prayed. Then they picked up the phone and called Selvage to get a recorded confession that could be turned over to police.
"It was hard for me to accept that this person who was a friend wasn't a friend," Williamson said, tears welling in her eyes. "I felt like Randy used me to deceive J.D. It was hard to wrap your brain around. It's like realizing your mom is your dad and the sky's green."
Although Selvage was ordered to pay back $76,812, Farmer believes Selvage stole four times that amount. Investigators don't know what happened to the money - they haven't found secret accounts or anything of value to add up to what they believe was taken.
Police and the District Attorney's Office agree Farmer is unlikely to ever see the money again.
'Some kind of cancer'
The fallout left Farmer with heavy baggage: payments on a half-million dollar showcase home; a long line of unpaid creditors and outstanding bills; unpaid taxes; and accumulating interest on a credit card he had never used.
Farmer blames his separation from his wife and 2-year-old son partially on the embezzlement.
Farmer went months without a paycheck so he could pay employees. Soon, though, the money ran out. About 30 people lost their jobs. About a month ago, Farmer found himself in an emergency room with a heart condition caused by extreme stress.
"There were nights I couldn't sleep. I got obsessed."
To no avail. His company folded Sept. 30, and he said bankruptcy is a definite possibility.
Recently, Farmer gave a tour of his family's dream home, five bedrooms, five baths, few furnishings - and an empty feeling.
Now, only he and his teen-age daughter occupy the estate.
"To see (Champion Construction) grow so fast and realizing it's got some kind of cancer, and then to realize it was my best friend doing this ..." Farmer said, his voice trailing off.
"He rips your heart out - and he doesn't care."
Even as Selvage settles in for a prison stretch and Farmer tries to rebuild his life, other thieves are stealing from employers throughout El Paso County, said Sgt. Reisler. He predicts more heartache before "the year of the embezzler" is over:
"It's really a nasty, dirty crime."
- Danielle Nieves covers law enforcement and may be reached at 636-0394 or email@example.com Edited by Niki Miscovich; Headline by Joel Millman
-CUTLINE- Randy Selvage, 45, got 12 years in prison for embezzling at least $70,000 from a Springs construction firm.
-CUTLINE- Carol Lawrence/The Gazette - J.D. Farmer sits in the living room of the dream home he built. Last March, he caught the accountant of his small construction company and trusted friend, Randy Selvage, in an embezzlement scheme that ruined his company and will likely lead to bankruptcy.
J.D. Farmer met his wife, Jill, in spring 1994 in Colorado Springs. Correction ran 11/16/00.
From Brian Karjala:
The Gazette article is reproduced without permission.
Randy Selvage was my supervisor at Focus on the Family and is now out of prison. Ironically, he was the one who regularly lectured my team about the theft problems inside the Focus buildings.
Correction to the article: Selvage worked at Focus on the Family as one of about eight supervisors in the 300 member Constituent Response department. Selvage never managed more than 25 to 35 people at any given time during his employment at Focus.
Selvage found a negative comment I wrote about him at another person's website (now removed) which led him to this site. Against the advice of his lawyer, Selvage wrote to me in a (Dec. 10, 2005) e-mail to find out why I didn't like him as a supervisor. That's when he let me know he was released early from prison:
"I'm on an ankle bracelet and have been for over a year."
He also wrote:
"I've lost 185 lbs. since last seeing you as I had a gastric bypass a few years ago. I've still got another 100 lbs or so to lose and will eventually."
I think the Gazette's 310-pound description of him was a conservative estimate. Otherwise he's going to be down to 25 pounds or so.
In that same e-mail he also stated:
"I have a wonderful job..."
But Selvage refused to tell me where he works or if he's living off stolen money. My attempts to get him to confess where he hid the money didn't go very well (he said the amount he stole was less than what investigators claimed). So that's why I've posted the article as a warning to my community that a major thief is once again "at large"... (if you think this story will be discussed on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast you are quite mistaken).
Selvage became angry when I questioned him about the theft problems at Focus on the Family. People's lunches were stolen from both the Administration and Operation buildings during his tenure at Focus. The cash donation box (which only supervisors had keys for) was also robbed (when Focus donors send in cash through the mail it is recorded and secured in a metal box). Selvage responded to my questioning by writing insults to me and, in a bizarre move, aligned himself with Tom Papania (but of course, Papania is also a thief and a liar).
At Focus when I would talk to Selvage the grotesque slob of a man would sometimes snicker and sneer. Selvage today is still friends with a number of Focus employees which is why he doesn't like my criticism of Focus. (These Focus employees who continue to associate with this man are real idiots.) As a criminal Selvage has no conviction or love of truth which is why he mocked my stand against corruption.
Note from the editor of christianissues.com to the editors of The Gazette: Thanks for nothing. I've reported that the #1 selling broadcast in the history of Focus on the Family's radio program is fraudulent... and you ignore me. This is a factual and relevant story of which authenticity is confirmed by numerous sources, including Focus.
In numerous articles you've praised Focus for its economic impact on the Springs (bringing in millions of dollars annually in tourism money). That's the primary reason your paper protects this organization. (But a house built on sinking sand will not stand.) You've reported on the trivial issue of Focus changing its dress code but won't report on fraud?! Until you decide to do the right thing I have withdrawn my financial support from your media organization. Here's a story you can print:
"Local Man Cancels Newspaper Subscription"