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JCC bookstore worker accused of embezzlement

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A former bookstore employee at Jefferson Community College was arrested Tuesday morning on allegations that she embezzled as much as $65,727 from the store since April.

Nancy M. Lear, 41, of 17239 Route 12E, Dexter, was arraigned Tuesday in Watertown City Court on charges of second-degree grand larceny and first-degree falsifying business records. She was released without bail by City Judge Eugene R. Renzi, and she faces possible grand jury action on the two felony counts.

Watertown police allege that Mrs. Lear, from April 1 to Nov. 28, made false entries of merchandise that did not exist, then pocketed cash for the fake transactions. Police officially set the theft tally in excess of $50,000, but court documents place the amount in excess of $65,000.

Mrs. Lear made admissions to police about the alleged embezzlement, but gave no indication of what she did with all the cash. A police report quotes sources who indicated she made frequent trips to Turning Stone Casino, Oneida County, and also traveled to New Orleans and Florida. Her hourly wage was listed as $17.21.

Mrs. Lear was an employee of the college’s Faculty Student Association, beginning as a cafeteria worker in 1996, police said. By her own recollection, according to a City Court document, she transferred to the bookstore in 2005 or 2006. She was fired Monday, according to the college.

She received an associate degree from the college in May 2011.

“This is an extremely serious and unfortunate situation for any organization to be involved in,” said college President Carole A. McCoy in a press release. “However, I’m pleased with the quick action of the Faculty Student Association, the cooperation of all bookstore employees and the assistance of the Watertown City Police Department in the investigation.”

The FSA is a not-for-profit organization that provides services at the college.

Police were asked to investigate on Dec. 1 after David J. Schissler, FSA executive director, conducted an inventory with new computer software that had been installed in April. An older software had failed to explain why in recent years the store was suffering “write-offs” approaching $100,000. The inventory that day revealed a $79,219.66 loss since April, and it also pointed to the majority occurring between 6 and 7 a.m., while Mrs. Lear was working alone, according to the court file.

Mrs. Lear became ill on the day of the inventory after being confronted about the lost money, a police report said.

Mr. Schissler explained to police that a book already in stock was scanned into the computer as if it were an item being returned. That would enable the clerk to remove the cash value from the money drawer and pocket it.

While processing the bogus refund, she had to enter a nine-digit student identification number. Made-up numbers were entered, but no red flags were turned up because the store’s computer is not linked to the college’s computer system, Mrs. Lear told police in her sworn statement.

She estimated that she recorded false refunds two or three times a week, doing two to four books each time. At that pace, she was pocketing $200 to $300 per week, she said in the document.

Mr. Schissler told police that of the $65,727 loss attributed to Mrs. Lear since April 1, about $55,000 was stolen after July 1.

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