News Feature | May 10, 2017

Office Manager Allegedly Siphons $850,000 From Water Utility

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

fbi reg new

A former office manager at a rural water utility in New Mexico allegedly stole almost a million dollars from her ex-employer, state officials say.

State Auditor Tim Keller “says he has never seen anything of this magnitude in a New Mexico rural utility embezzlement by an individual person,” KRQE reported. “The FBI was notified because federal funds may have been involved in some of the fraudulent transactions.”

The office manager who allegedly carried out the theft, Lori Whitaker, is the mother of Cutter Rogers, the utility’s general manager, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported. Rogers is not suspected of wrongdoing, KRQE reported.

Keller, the state auditor, confirmed that his office has forwarded information to authorities about the alleged theft at the Otis Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association. “Preparations for the group's annual audit uncovered financial discrepancies,” the Associated Press reported.

“Officials with the auditor’s office said Whitaker used the association’s credit card to make ‘extraordinary’ cash withdrawals dating as far back as March 2015 from casinos in New Mexico and other states,” the Current-Argus reported.

A total of $850,000 went missing at the utility, according to the report.

Whitaker’s lawyer Denise Madrid told the newspaper: “We’re just waiting to see what happens after the investigation is complete. The family is obviously very concerned about the whole situation.”

Rogers, the general manager, “vowed water customers would not see any interruptions in their service, or changes to their bills,” according to the report. He said the association has enough money to continue operating.

"Otis Mutual Domestic Water has recently been the subject of newspaper articles, television reports and Facebook discussion concerning an alleged employee theft of funds," Rogers wrote. "Otis is being asked questions concerning the effect of the loss on Otis, its customers and operations."

The utility is pursuing an insurance claim on its $500,000 policy, the report said.

“Formerly the Otis Water Co-op until 2006, the non-profit association serves about 4,000 residents and businesses in rural Eddy County, about five miles southeast of Carlsbad. The association has several wells and large water tanks, as well as water towers scattered across central Eddy County,” KRQE reported.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center.

Image credit: "FBI Police," Andre Gustavo Stumpf © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/