Cop Of The Week

by Melissa Bailey | October 16, 2008 10:35 AM | | Comments (2)

IMG_2001.jpg“Follow the money,” said a voice in Det. Scott Branfuhr’s head. He did — and learned how a local accountant was living “a rock-star lifestyle” while allegedly stealing over $200,000 that his company put in his trust.

Branfuhr, 42, has been on the city police force for 19 years. A newly minted detective, he’s been working in the city’s four-person financial crimes unit since his promotion in February.

From his desk in the detective bureau this week, he recounted how an embezzlement tip led him to make one of the biggest arrests of his career.

“It was a monster,” recalled Branfuhr of the case, whose two-inch thick file ends with a signed warrant.

The case started with a complaint from a local company that does navigational consulting. The company called police in July, reporting that a trusted accountant had been ripping them off for months. Over $200,000 was missing from company accounts. An employee had gone through 18 months of company records and pulled out 195 entries of allegedly misappropriated funds. The suspicious line items had been marked with a highlighter and delivered to police. Branfuhr received them in a stack on his desk.

“I sat down, shut the door, and I read everything,” he said. “Then I read everything again. From reading the info, I had headaches.”

“Using Brain Instead Of Fists”

Branfuhr came to this line of work after over 18 years patrolling city streets. He pedaled through the Hill as a bike cop, and drove the streets of Dixwell. His new beat, behind a desk on the third floor of police headquarters, has been quite a change.

“I’m using my brain instead of my fists,” said Branfuhr. “I drive a computer instead of a patrol car. I actually like it. It keeps me interested.”

Sitting in front of his Compaq computer wearing a striped button-down shirt, the detective told how he cracked the case against a 33-year-old Hamden accountant.

The suspect started a stint as a part-time accountant for the company in November 2006. He earned $20 per hour keeping track of finances for the company, which has fewer than a dozen employees, Branfuhr said.

In May 2008, staff discovered some odd entries on their accounts, charges to vendors whom the company didn’t even do business with. They called their trusty accountant in to explain the discrepancies. When he wouldn’t explain, he was fired.

The case was reported to police in July and assigned to Branfuhr in August.

“Rock-Star Lifestyle”

Working with payroll records and account statements, Branfuhr pieced together the tale of a man who allegedly took advantage of a position of trust to live it up on the company dime.

The accountant allegedly used company funds to fly friends to Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida. He cut himself extra paychecks, adding $80,000 to his part-time salary of less than $30,000, according to Branfuhr.

“He lived a rock-star lifestyle, basically,” the detective remarked. “It was very brazen. But he had control of the books. No one was looking over his shoulder.”

The suspect also allegedly siphoned off $63,000 to a company he was chief financial officer of called Cloud Nine Promotions.

“Cloud Nine did not see any of the monies that were embezzled, if they were embezzled,” said Al Carocci, attorney for the company, reached this week by phone. The suspect helped found the small, three-person company, Carocci said.

As soon as Cloud Nine was notified of the alleged embezzlement, the company “cut all ties [with the suspect], ceased operations as Cloud Nine,” and moved the business somewhere else under a different name, Carocci said.

The accountant allegedly kept up a pattern of theft for at least 18 months.

“He was the accountant,” said Branfuhr. “Accountants and lawyers are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility. This guy clearly abused his trust.”

After tallying the entries and checking with vendors to get matching receipts, Branfuhr compiled a 15-page report. He wrote an arrest warrant charging the accountant with first-degree larceny, a felony charge, for allegedly stealing over $200,000 in company funds.

The Stake-Out

He got it signed by a judge. He called the suspect to ask him to turn himself in. When the suspect didn’t get back to him, the detective went by his apartment a couple times, to no avail. Then he found a way to track him down.

He found out that the suspect was due to be in town on a separate case: The company is suing him civilly, as well as Cloud Nine, over the alleged embezzlement.

Detective Branfuhr staked out a downtown lawyers’ office where a disposition was taking place.

“He was a bit elusive,” the detective said. “I didn’t want to go chasing him around the state.” After a while, the suspect walked out of the building with his lawyer. Branfuhr handed him a warrant.

“He didn’t say a peep,” Branfuhr said.

Through his attorney, the accountant declined to comment for this article. He is due to enter a plea in New Haven Superior Court on Oct. 20. He remained in the area, released on a $250,000 bond. The suspect could serve up to five years in prison for the offense.

“I can’t fathom that anyone would think they could get away with something so blatant,” Branfuhr reflected as he awaited the suspect’s plea.

“He can’t explain this away,” he said. “These numbers don’t lie.”

Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
Dennis Burgh
Sydney Collier
David Coppola
Joe Dease
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Bertram Etienne
Jeffrey Fletcher
Renee Forte
William Gargone & Mike Torre
Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
Dan Hartnett
Ray Hassett
Ronnell Higgins
Racheal Inconiglios
Hilda Kilpatrick
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
Luis & David Rivera
Salvador Rodriguez
Brett Runlett
David Runlett
Marcus Tavares
Martin Tchakirides
Stephan Torquati
Kelly Turner
Alan Wenk
Michael Wuchek
David Zaweski

(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)

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Posted by: Alphonse Credenza | October 16, 2008 2:34 PM

Why isn't the accused named? It's public information.

Posted by: kamb | October 18, 2008 3:18 PM

What a heads-up job by New Havens Finest! Good job Officer Scott B!

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