Chapter 2 This Was More Than a Simple Theft


Chapter 2 This Was More Than a Simple Theft

Private Investigator Paul Manning’s detective agency was taking a close look at a parking garage. Its owner, Helga Jackson, an extremely well-dressed woman, was concerned that “something funny” was going on. She wanted a woman investigator, and Paul’s wife, Shirley, was on the case. Helga’s business partner was her sister, Maria, a not-so-well-dressed operations manager for the garage. The Mannings started by doing a quick one-day survey. Their operative reported that he had counted 1,445 vehicle entries. At $20 a pop, that meant a $28,900 gross for the day. The next day brought a surprise. The gross was $35,000! What the hell was going on?
Helga Jackson was the best-dressed woman I had ever met. I decided I couldn’t compete with her and didn’t try. I dressed professionally and headed for her office. I was trying to decide how to explain a $6,100 overage in receipts for the previous day. I figured she would be dressed to kill. I wasn’t disappointed.
Helga was wearing head-to-toe an Alessandro Michele’s of Gucci pantsuit. A Chanel jumbo flap bag was on her desk. She walked over to meet me at the door. Her Gucci Peyton Pearl-Heel leather loafers were silent on the thick carpet. She had a Cartier bangle around her neck. She was at least $25K on the hoof. This woman knew how to dress.
She directed me to the sofa that was along one wall of the office. She sat in a matching chair. There were a carafe of coffee and china cups on the table. She poured without asking. I took the coffee.
“Now, Mrs. Manning, what have you discovered so far?”
“It’s very early in the investigation, but we have found one interesting fact. Yesterday, your company deposited $35,000 in the bank. However, we counted the cars that came into the garage, and they should have grossed $28,900. You deposited $6,100 more into the bank than you should have.
“There are a number of possibilities,” I said. “An employee could have given himself a short-term ‘loan’ and then returned the money. Or we could have made an error in the count. We will want to see the tickets issued for yesterday and do a firm audit. 
“But first, I want to do another count from outside. Our operative has already begun counting for today, and we will see what happens tomorrow. As soon as we ask for the tickets, the cat will be out of the bag. 
“I know you suspect your sister and want to keep this as quiet as possible.”
“But I suspected a theft,” Helga said. “This is the opposite. It makes no sense. Why would someone put money into our company?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, “but we will find out. I think it’s time we bring your sister into this. She will know something is wrong when I start turning over stones in your accounting department.”
“No! I don’t want Maria to know just yet,” Helga said. “We have had a difficult relationship and I am trying to either mend some fences or put her in jail. I don’t want her to suspect anything. Isn’t there an alternative.”
“There is one thing,” I said. “In my position here as a consultant in your HR department, I can hire one of my operatives to work in accounting. I know just the person. She is bright, and knows her way around a balance sheet. 
“She can sniff around as part of her job and see if she can find out where the extra money is coming from, and where it’s going. I’m sure if someone is putting money into your company, they are also removing it.”
Helga considered my proposal for a minute and then smiled. “I hired the right detective, Mrs. Manning. You carry on. Let’s see what you and your staff can ‘sniff out’ in my company.”
I was walking out as Maria was coming in. She was dressed from Target and the Gap as much as Helga was from Rodeo Drive. Jeans, a T-shirt with a Nike warm-up jacket and sneakers. Maria had told me yesterday that she liked comfort as she was all over the garage throughout the day.
I mentioned to her that I was going to start filling some vacancies and already had some resumes to review for positions in their administrative section. Her reaction was in keeping with the feeling I got yesterday. Short, succinct, and business-like: “Fine.”
And Maria continued into Helga’s office.
I went to the office I had been assigned and pulled some resumes out of my case. I called Linda Dalton, the operative I was going to place in accounting, and asked her to meet me for lunch, away from the garage. 
When we met, I filled her in on what had happened so far and told her to come in to my office at 2 p.m. for an interview.
We faked the interview smoothly, and I took her in to introduce her to Helga and Maria. It was a perfunctory meeting. She was hired and would start the next day.
That evening, I met with Paul and Linda, and we reviewed where we were. I had spent some time with Maria and learned that the garage was 95% automated, with pay-on-foot machines collecting most of the money, 40% of it by credit card. 
There was one walk-up window that looked into the administrative office, and if anyone wanted to pay in person, one of the clerks dealt with them. One of Linda’s goals was to find out where the discrepancy was and just how the extra money was being inserted into the deposit. 
It didn’t seem obvious to me. If almost half the money was by credit card, and most of the rest by machine, how could cash be added before the deposit was made? It would seem to involve a lot of different people. 
Paul reminded me that the issue with that first case so many years ago was that the garage was being used by the “mob” as a laundry. They were taking dirty money from their loan-sharking, prostitution and gambling, and running it through the garage. When the deposit was made, the money was clean. But that garage owner was “connected” to the mob. 
That didn’t seem to be the case here. The owner of the garage actually called us to find the problem. How could someone launder money without her being involved?
Linda went to work the next day and said the reports from the automated system seemed at first blush OK. The number of tickets reported equaled the amount of money collected. 
Then I got an idea. I asked her to collect the tickets and count them and see if the count matched the report from the machine. 
That night I got a call from the police. Linda was in the hospital. Her car had been run off the road as she was driving home. She was injured but expected to pull through.
I don’t believe in coincidence. If someone was willing to kill over it, we had tripped over something here that was bigger than Helga and I first thought.
This was not a simple theft. 
To be continued …
Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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