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Accountant accused of taking $500,000 from Hudson air conditioning company

HUDSON — Michael Cougill's boss didn't know about the secret cruises, airline tickets and the high-dollar hotels. But he knew something was wrong.

"It was evident the money was leaving the business," said Daniel Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Inc., an air conditioning and electric company. "We just didn't know where it was going."

After a bank statement in July, he sat down with Cougill, his accountant, to talk about it.

"There's no way this is right," he told Cougill.

A week later, without notice, Cougill packed up his things on a Friday afternoon and never came back. That's when Schmitt really began to check his records.

Now, after a three-month investigation, Schmitt and Pasco County Sheriff's Office detectives say Cougill, 44, siphoned more than $500,000 out of the business during his two years as account manager.

Reports detail the multi-pronged embezzlement scheme between October 2010 and July of this year:

They say Cougill forged Schmitt's signature on checks to cash for himself and to pay for his personal bills. He accepted cash from customers, but kept it instead of depositing it in the company bank account. He took out a debit card from SunTrust Bank, opened a Visa credit line and applied for a Chase credit card in Daniel Schmitt's name, which he used to make "thousands of dollars in purchases," the report says.

Schmitt said he had no clue about any of it.

"We checked him out, and nothing came up," Schmitt said, "It wasn't just one of those things you'd see right away. He was smart."

Cougill, whose Facebook page says he lived in Spring Hill and attended Springstead High School, spent the money on airplane and cruise tickets, the report states. He paid for nights in lavish hotel rooms for his family and friends.

Schmitt said Cougill seemed friendly and trustworthy when he hired him at the company, 17935 U.S. 19, in May 2010.

But on Wednesday, deputies arrested Cougill, now living at 21710 U.S. 98 in Dade City, on a charge of embezzlement and grand theft over $100,000. He remained in Land O'Lakes jail Thursday in lieu of $250,000 bail.

Schmitt, who started the family-owned company 47 years ago, said he's trying to make up for the massive loss.

"To be here every day and stealing, that's pretty brazen," Schmitt said. "People work hard to make this thing run."

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Accountant accused of taking $500,000 from Hudson air conditioning company 11/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 8:28pm]

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