Clearwater woman accused of stealing $175,000 from law firm

CLEARWATER — A 34-year-old Clearwater woman is accused of stealing at least $175,000 from her employer over several years and spending it on vacations, trips to the hair salon, personal bills and student loan payments.

Kerry Sue McCallister-Higgins was arrested Monday night on a felony charge of grand theft.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, McCallister-Higgins had check-signing privileges as an office manager and bookkeeper at Golson Law Firm, which used to be at 601 Cleveland St. N.

Over the course of six years or longer, McCallister-Higgins wrote "multiple, unauthorized" checks to herself, an arrest report shows.

She used others to pay for credit card purchases at grocery stores, movie theaters, drugstores and various other shops. Others paid bills for hotels, hair-dos, rental cars, student loans and a cell phone, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

At the time of her arrest, Detective David Kavanagh with the Sheriff's Office economic crimes unit had identified $175,939 in missing funds. But that amount may rise as detectives continue to investigate, Barreda said.

Of the current total, $46,471 was in the form of personal checks McCallister-Higgins paid to herself. The remainder went to third parties for bills for credit cards, student loans and other personal expenses.

The Sheriff's Office began investigating in March when the owner of the law firm, William Golson, discovered corporate checks written out to McCallister-Higgins.

McCallister-Higgins was paid by a payroll company, so there was no reason she should have been listed as the payee on company checks, Barreda said.

Golson no longer owns a law firm on Cleveland Street. It was unclear late Tuesday if he had retired or opened his firm elsewhere. He could not be reached for comment.

McCallister-Higgins was arrested at her home at 900 Woodley Road in Clearwater. She was taken to the Pinellas County Jail and released early Tuesday after posting a $50,000 surety bond.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, McCallister-Higgins has no previous arrests in Florida. She could not be reached for comment.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Clearwater woman accused of stealing $175,000 from law firm 07/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 8:39pm]

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