Belfast woman charged with embezzling $83,000 from family businessAccused is wife of attorney under investigation for 'financial exploitation'
Belfast — The wife of a Belfast lawyer who is under investigation for alleged "financial exploitation" of two elderly clients has been charged with embezzling about $83,000 from her family's business over the course of four years.
Lauri Dawson, 56, of Belfast, was arrested on a warrant during the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 9, on a charge of Class B theft, according to court records, and she was released that morning on $5,000 unsecured bail.
Court records state Lauri Dawson is accused of embezzling a total of $83,003.35 from her family's business, Macleod Furniture, between the dates of February 2008 and February 2012.
Family reports alleged embezzlement
Court documents state the investigation by the Belfast Police Department began in March of 2013, when Scott and Brent Macleod, along with local attorney Randy Mailloux, went to the police station to speak with Police Chief Mike McFadden. Mailloux gave McFadden an envelope containing what he described as the results of a forensic audit that was conducted by Norton and Masters Accounting in Rockland. The audit encompassed financial records for the furniture company back to 2008. The Macleods and Mailloux told police the audit showed Lauri Dawson may have embezzled as much as $137,875.36 while working as a bookkeeper for the family business.
Scott Macleod, according to court records, stated he noticed the company was experiencing financial trouble and having difficulty meeting its tax obligations to the state and federal governments.
"He stated to Chief McFadden that at one point his mother had to cover the company financially," stated the affidavit. "Scott [Macleod] also indicated that liens from the state and federal governments have been placed on the property owned by the corporation."
Scott Macleod told police, according to the affidavit, that his mother had recently passed away and that there was a life insurance policy which contained enough money to relieve Lauri Dawson from "her own personal tax issues." Scott Macleod also stated he was aware that Lauri Dawson, who was identified as his sister, owed close to $100,000 to the federal government herself. The caveat to that agreement was that Lauri Dawson would sign over her 15 percent interest in the business as well as any interest in her mother's estate, all of which would have been in exchange for the money associated with the insurance policy.
Court documents state the family had made "numerous attempts" to settle the situation, and Scott Macleod told police that since the family had made that "last best offer" to Lauri Dawson, he, Brent Macleod or Mailloux had not heard back from her in several months.
That is when the family decided to turn the matter over to police, stated the court record, and the Macleods told police the family had no repayment agreement in place with Lauri Dawson and that the business had not received any money from Lauri Dawson.
Through the investigation, court records state, police learned Lauri Dawson and her husband, local attorney William Dawson, were having "serious financial problems and have had multiple liens placed on their property by the [Internal Revenue Service]."
The court record also stated that William Dawson never worked for Macleod Furniture.
Police: Numbers did not add up
Court documents detailed transactions the forensic audit turned up, beginning in 2008, when Lauri Dawson allegedly issued herself 56 payroll checks in a year with 53 pay periods, allegedly overpaying herself $1,950 for that year. In 2009, financial records show Lauri Dawson issued herself 79 payroll checks in a 53-pay period year, an overpayment of $17,550. In 2010, she allegedly issued herself 63 payroll checks in a 53-pay period year, or $8,376 extra, and in 2011, Lauri Dawson wrote 66 checks to herself in a 52-pay period year, with the alleged overpayment totaling $9,528. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 4, 2012, Lauri Dawson issued eight paychecks to herself over the course of five pay periods, paying herself an additional $2,010.
"These additional checks were also included in her W-2 as earnings," stated the affidavit. Those additional payroll checks totaled $39,414.
Court documents also state that during that 2008 through 2012 span, 29 checks were issued to either Lauri Dawson or her son, Robert Dawson, that were either not entered into the business' accounting program at all or entered under inappropriate accounts. Those checks totaled $19,558.
"Robert Dawson has worked as a sub-contractor in the past for Macleod's and had been paid properly in the past," stated the court record. "This $19,558 was paid from another inappropriate account and did not appear to be for any work done for Macleod's Furniture."
From 2008 through 2011, the investigation showed Lauri Dawson issued 10 checks to Bank of America — checks that court records state were written on the company's account with Damariscotta Bank.
"These checks were to cover Lauri Dawson's personal expenses charged on the corporate credit card issued by Bank of America," stated the affidavit, which noted those checks added up to $7,252.51.
From November 2008 through December 2011, the affidavit stated that 25 check had been issued to Lauri Dawson out of the company payroll account that were not entered into the business' accounting program or included in any of her W-2s as earnings. Those checks totaled $13,169.92.
In June 2010, court records state that two checks were also issued to Key Bank, each for $750. One was recorded on the company accounting software as "mortgage" and the second under "notes payable." Lauri Dawson endorsed both checks, but neither of them were applied to any of the company's business accounts.
The affidavit stated there were also two checks written from the company payroll account and issued to the Maine Revenue Service.
"Both had Lauri Dawson's social security number written on the memo line — one check in Oct[ober] 2011 and one in Dec[ember] 2011," stated the court record.
Both had been entered into the business accounting program, with one classified as "penalties" and the other listed as "payroll liabilities."
One check in January 2012 was issued to the IRS and was entered into the company accounting program under "penalties," a check that had her husband William Dawson's social security number written on the memo line.
The total of those five checks was $3,608.92.
A police review of the audit "identified obvious misappropriations of $83,003.35."
Lauri Dawson is scheduled to appear at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast Thursday, Jan. 30, at 8:30 a.m.
Husband of accused remains under legal scrutiny
In May, a Maine Department of Health and Human Services social worker accused William Dawson of financially exploiting two elderly women for which he had served as power of attorney, and filed affidavits with the Waldo County Probate Court asking for temporary appointment on behalf of those women. Court records stated Judge Susan Longley issued an interim order that in part barred Dawson from "writing checks to himself, his firm and/or his family."
In December, the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar issued a consent order imposing conditions on William Dawson pending the outcome of the investigation the board initiated in October of last year. The board also filed a petition for William Dawson's temporary suspension Nov. 21, 2013, a petition that could be deferred if Dawson complies with the board's Dec. 16, 2013 consent order, and pending the outcome of the grievance investigation.
Since the report of his alleged mishandling the accounts became public last fall, Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker told The Republican Journal that the Maine Attorney General's Office has launched an investigation into the matter.
One of the alleged victims is 98 years old and court records state she suffers from dementia, and the second woman is 86 years old and court documents state she has multiple medical conditions including memory loss, anxiety disorder, depression and severe congestive heart failure.
Joanne Cookson, a licensed social worker with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, filed affidavits of support for a temporary appointment on behalf of the two women May 7, 2013 and stated in both affidavits that a temporary appointment "is necessary to prevent serious, immediate and irreparable harm to the financial interests of the person alleged to be incapacitated/in need of protection."
Referring to the allegations against William Dawson concerning the estate of the 98-year-old woman, who has been at Harbor Hill since July 2012, Cookson stated she visited the woman in February and again in April and observed the woman was "not aware of her finances and has left complete control to her current [power of attorney,] Mr. William Dawson, Esq."
The 98-year-old appointed William Dawson to that position in June 2012.
Cookson further told the court the 98-year-old has money in two local financial institutions. At Key Bank, statements as of March 20, 2013 showed she had $261,830.43 in checking and $242,845.38 and $200,224.22 in two separate certificates of deposits.
"Over the last year, Mr. William Dawson has paid himself $123,800 as [power of attorney]," stated Cookson.
At Camden National Bank, the 98-year-old had $26,019.60 in her checking account, and the social worker stated William Dawson had paid himself $54,700 as power of attorney over a nine-month period.
"[The 98-year-old] is at risk of further possible financial exploitation and is in need of immediate intervention in order to have all of her finances preserved for her care," Cookson stated.
In reference to the 86-year-old woman, who according to court records has resided at Harbor Hill since 2009, Cookson stated she visited the woman in February and April of this year and offered similar reasons for petitioning the court for the temporary order.
Like the elder of William Dawson's clients, Cookson said the 86-year-old had left complete control of her finances to William Dawson. The woman appointed Dawson as power of attorney in September 2005, stated Cookson.
During those visits, Cookson observed the 86-year-old "has significant memory loss and limited insight concerning her physical and intellectual capacities. [She] is unable to manage her finances and she forgets she cannot provide for herself without staff assistance."
The 86-year-old, stated Cookson, also has money at Key Bank and Camden National Bank, and as of April 9, 2013 Key Bank statements indicate the woman had $11,539.32 in checking and $10,895.65 in savings. Bank records also showed William Dawson paid himself $32,000 as power of attorney in the past year.
Camden National Bank statements indicated as of April 4, 2013 the 86-year-old woman had $7,310.96 in a checking account, $540,081.41 in savings as well as $165,000 and $40,000 in two separate certificates of deposit. In reference to those accounts, Cookson stated William Dawson paid himself $117,275 for his services in the past year.
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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