When a North Carolina law firm hired their new bookkeeper, they probably thought they’d found the perfect employee. Pleasant, professional, and skilled.

Then, they found out she even had a lot more financial experience than they initially realized!

The problem was, her vast experience was in… embezzlement.

According to news reports, the law firm of Yow, Fox & Mannen realized that they had hired a serial swindler only after $153,000 was found missing from their accounts.

Some of the money was embezzled in checks written to Kelley’s son, husband, and… wait for it… boyfriend (she apparently didn’t limit her cheating to the office).

Lawyer jokes aside, law firms are placed in positions of deep trust by their clients and held to high ethical standards by the public. A law firm’s greatest asset is its reputation. (Just like every other business.)

All of which begs the question: How did Kelley ever get by the law firm’s screening process?

 When we read about Kelley’s massive fraud, Imperative ran our standard Critical Criminal Background Investigation – the same report we deliver to risk-averse employers every day – which revealed a criminal history stretching back two decades.

It included:

  • 1993 – Federal court felony conviction for forgery
  • 1995 – State court felony conviction for credit card fraud
  • 1999 – State court misdemeanor conviction for issuing a worthless check
  • 2006 – State court felony conviction for embezzlement
  • 2008 – State court misdemeanor conviction for probation violation
  • 2014 – State court misdemeanor conviction for issuing a worthless check

Had the law firm been an Imperative client, all of these items (along with numerous traffic violations and other offenses) would have been included in her background report.

Instead, the law firm was tricked into granting her enough access to steal $153,000!

That is more than 1,000 times more expensive than Imperative’s Critical Criminal Background Investigation!

Kelley now has a fresh felony conviction for embezzlement and, one hopes, the law firm has an improved background screening policy.

The lesson for employers is that no matter how charming an employment candidate may be, failure to thoroughly background screen your candidates will eventually lead to a bad hire day. This means:

  • Always requiring applicants to complete your company’s employment application (and never accepting “Will discuss” as a response!)
  • Asking the applicant a thorough and legal question in writing about their criminal history.
  • Delving deeper into red-flag areas such as gaps in employment, reasons for leaving previous employment, education claims, and criminal history during the interview.
  • Verifying the applicant’s claims regarding employment, education and experience, and criminal history.

All of these things may seem simple but too many employers “play it by ear” and fail to have a plan to screen their prospective employees legally and effectively.

For more information about what a bulletproof background screening process looks like, check out our ebook, 7 Steps to Making Bulletproof Hiring Decisions.

REMEMBER: The time to improve your employee selection process is before an applicant like Felicia Kelley ever darkens your door.