Lynnwood bookkeeper gets federal prison for embezzling $298K

Judith Wright, 75, was sentenced Friday to six months for writing fraudulent checks to herself. It wasn’t the first time.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lynnwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

LYNNWOOD — For seven years, a Lynnwood woman fraudulently issued checks to her own company from a Seattle firm.

This wasn’t the first time Judith Wright, 75, was caught stealing. In 1994, she was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for embezzling at least $45,000 from the bank where she served as chief financial officer. That scheme, almost three decades ago, was “nearly identical” to the more recent embezzlement, federal prosecutors alleged.

In the 2000s, Wright’s main job at Transportation Demand Management was maintaining financial records.

Between February 2010 and January 2017, however, Wright deposited 120 fraudulent checks from the company, totaling $298,000, according to federal prosecutors.

This only came to light when a new chief financial officer arrived and started questioning Wright’s work. An FBI analysis of her payments between 2013 and 2018 found she spent almost $79,000 at Nordstrom, over $17,000 with TV shopping network QVC, more than $16,000 at Starbucks and nearly $10,000 with the Merry Maids cleaning service.

In a letter accepting responsibility, Wright wrote that “money was tight” and “in desperation” she embezzled funds to cover expenses for her daughter and granddaughter.

In September, Wright pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. She was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to six months in prison and one year of home detention. Federal prosecutors had pushed for her to spend 2¾ years behind bars.

She was also ordered to pay back the almost $300,000 she embezzled.

In this case, she disguised the payments as being meant for vendors. Instead, they went into a bank account she controlled, according to court documents. She applied the signature of the company’s owner without the owner’s permission, as well.

“Even with the passage of time, you have little respect for the law,” Judge Richard Jones said at Friday’s sentencing, according to a news release.

Wright also reportedly created fake accounts in the company’s accounting system that recorded the checks to her as credit card fees.

Those efforts to hide the fraudulent checks were largely successful. After all, her illegal activities “continued unfettered for nearly seven years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Arnold wrote in court papers.

“The defendant’s scheme was not an isolated incident of misjudgment,” Arnold wrote. “Rather, her conduct was lengthy and calculated.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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