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Accountant accused of stealing $1.6 million from law firm

On Valentine's Day last year, David Sarnowski directed a final illegal transfer of funds to his own pockets, authorities say, and abruptly left the offices of Yarborough, Sarnowski & Evans, a Clearwater accounting firm.

He took his desktop computer with him.

On Saturday, the economic crimes unit of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested Sarnowski, 50, on charges of stealing $1.6 million over four years from a law firm that used him to handle its payroll and payroll taxes. He took the money, authorities said, to support a gambling habit.

Authorities charged Sarnowski, who had been with the accounting firm for two decades, with felony grand theft and scheme to defraud. Monday afternoon, he was held at the Pinellas County Jail on a $200,000 bond. He faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison for each charge.

Sarnowski, whose last known address is in Dunedin, had a clean criminal record, authorities said. Public documents indicate he filed for bankruptcy in 1995. He has been married and divorced three times.

He was drawn to online gambling activities, including horse racing, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

"He would bet large sums," she said, "and he would bet often."

After Sarnowski's abrupt departure from the office in February, a partner alerted the Clearwater law firm of Tanney, Eno, Tanney, Griffith & Ingram, authorities said. Sarnowski had been providing payroll services to the law group for a decade.

The law firm, which did not return calls for comment, hired a private accounting outfit to investigate. When irregularities were discovered, it contacted the Sheriff's Office in July.

Sheriff's investigators said Sarnowski began diverting money to his own payroll account in 2004. Over the course of the alleged theft, investigators said, the Internal Revenue Service routinely notified Sarnowski that the law firm's payroll taxes weren't being paid.

Robert Evans has known Sarnowski since about 1990, when he joined Yarborough, Sarnowski & Evans. Evans, 55, said he and his partner didn't socialize, and he had no idea Sarnowski had a gambling problem.

Evans said he assumed some of Sarnowski's workload and directed a few of his former partner's clients to other accounting firms. Evans said, and there are no problems with any of Sarnowski's other accounts.

Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

Accountant accused of stealing $1.6 million from law firm 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 11:56pm]
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