As the federal embezzlement trial of Atlanta lawyer Nathan Hardwick IV continues, defense lawyer Ed Garland has been working hard to deliver on an early promise to show jurors that Asha Maurya, the former controller for now-bankrupt law firm Morris Hardwick Schneider, was a thief.
Last week, he called two of Maurya’s former employers to testify that she stole money from them and falsified financial records.
There was no trial Monday for Columbus Day, so the defense picked up on Tuesday, after presenting three days of witnesses so far.
The government has accused Hardwick of embezzling $26 million from the residential real estate firm’s closing operation, which he ran, from 2011 to August 2014, when escrow account shortfalls came to light.
It also indicted Maurya as a co-conspirator, alleging that Hardwick directed her to wire millions of dollars from the firm’s escrow and operating accounts to pay his personal bills to casinos, private jet companies and to his personal holding company, Divot Holdings, which he then re-routed to bookies, creditors and women.
Maurya pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud last year and is cooperating with the government, but prosecutors did not put her on the stand. She has admitted to stealing almost $900,000 from MHS. Garland and other lawyers from Garland, Samuel & Loeb have maintained that Maurya was the sole culprit for MHS’s almost $30 million in escrow shortfalls, not his client.
Missing Deposits, Fake Invoices
Todd Schram testified for the defense that he employed Maurya as his controller for four years when he was the general manager for Sodexo Campus Services’ Georgia Tech location. Sodexo operated the university’s dining halls and concession stands at sports events.
Initially Schram trusted Maurya, he said. She was a hard worker and smart, he told the jury, although some co-workers complained that she was “kind of dominating and controlling.”
Maurya worked for Sodexo from September 2000 until January 2005. Schram fired her after concession stand cash went missing and then an internal investigation turned up fake invoices.
Schram told the jury that, in December 2004, a co-worker reported that a concession deposit they had entered in the accounting system had disappeared. Asha lied to him and said the roughly $1,800 in cash didn’t get deposited because Sodexo’s armored car service, Dunbar Armored, lost it, the food-service executive testified, adding that Dunbar said they had no record of it.
Sodexo suspended Maurya with pay, pending an internal investigation, Schram said.
About $40,000 in petty cash from the concession stands went missing over the four years Maurya worked there, Schram said on cross-examination. “There was no direct tie, but a very strong inference.”
The following month the company discovered nine or 10 false invoices, Schram said, which inflated its revenue by about $3 million. Maurya created the fake financial reports, he said.
Inflated Financials, Credit Card Theft
Maurya went to work for an ambulance company, Pro Care Emergency Services, through a temp service after she was fired from MHS in 2014—but she had only worked there three months when the company discovered she was altering financial reports, Pro Care’s CEO, Tony Thrash testified.
At first, Thrash said, he thought she was “incredible” and “trusted her a lot.”
But Maurya, who replaced the company’s retired CFO, falsified the firm’s EBITA figure in a weekly report to make profits appear higher than they were, Thrash said. He became suspicious because ambulance call volume was flat and expenses were the same.
He added that Maurya told him to go ahead and buy a new truck for himself because the “company was doing great,” which he did.
She also lied about collecting $20,000 in bills from a nursing home, Thrash said. “Everything started unwinding.”
Maurya “changed the accounting system so only she understood it,” he added.
Thrash said that, after he fired Maurya, he discovered she had charged $12,000 to $15,000 on a corporate credit card she had confiscated from an employee who’d misused it. He also said a $400,000 line of credit had been “maxed out,” that was still being investigated.
“I think she is an incredibly talented liar and thief,” said the Pro Care CEO, who reported her to the FBI.
On cross-examination Thrash told Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Gilfillan that Maurya stole $15,000 for sure—and the company is still investigating if she took additional money.