HARRISBURG – A Superior Court panel has ruled that a Clearfield County restaurant owner can’t hold a local bank liable for cashing embezzled checks from her former accounting bookkeeper.
The court released its opinion June 26, with Judge Carl A. Solano writingthe opinion. The court concluded that Northwest Savings Bank was not liable for the $62,000 stolen by Cynthia M. Patton from the Hitching Post restaurant as part of a nearly two-year scheme commencing in September of 2011.
Patton, of nearby Falls Creek, ultimately pleaded guilty to at least 33 felony counts of theft by deception and 14 more counts of forgery, was sentenced to up to five years in state prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims.
During the course of the probe, investigators established that Patton cashed 10 checks made payable to "cash" using funds that were earmarked for restocking the restaurant's ATM.
Restaurant owners moved to sue the bank after charging that not enough safeguards were in place to help prevent scams like the one perpetrated by Patton. Bank officials appealed to the court after a county judge dismissed their initial suit against the bank.
In rendering the most recent verdict, Solano highlighted that six of the stolen checks made out to "cash" bore the legitimate signature of Hitching Post owner Dianne Harmick.
Given that, the panel of judges concluded the transactions were not actually forgeries, and bank officials had no reason to suspect that they were not legitimate.
Just before sentencing, it was noted that Patton has already paid back nearly $21,000 of the stolen money. Attorneys for her told the court she used the swiped funds to make payments on her business and to help family members.
All the stolen money was taken over a 17-month period ending in February of 2012. The funds were then deposited into a personal account belonging to Patton at First Commonwealth Bank, which later presented the checks to Northwest for payment.