Employee accused of bilking Largo's Buxton Properties

A Largo woman told police she took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company she worked for when she became overwhelmed by handling family bills.

Catherine Sarja McMullen, 46, who worked as a controller for Buxton Properties in Largo, spent the money on such things as a 2007 Dodge Charger for her son, dinners out, spa trips, rents, cell phone bills and credit cards, said Largo police Detective Lara Young.

"She had a lot of credit cards and a lot of debt," Young said.

And, in a desperate attempt to win money to repay the debt, McMullen claimed she gambled several times at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Young said.

Thursday afternoon, McMullen was being held at Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $30,000 bail. She was arrested March 30 on a scheme to defraud charge. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office charged McMullen last month with one count of grand theft.

Investigators think the events occurred over more than two years in a complicated shell game that also involved shifting money to Buxton from condominium associations managed by Buxton, Young said.

Buxton manages property for about 20 condominium associations throughout Pinellas County, including Sunfish Bay in Clearwater, Young said. Investigators believe 16 to 18 of those associations, including Sunfish Bay, may have lost money.

Calls to several association board members were not returned.

Company owner Brian Buxton told police that it appeared that more than $800,000 was missing. But that's just an initial estimate and it's not clear yet how much money is missing from the company or associations, Young said.

Buxton, who did not return calls for comment, confronted McMullen on March 23 after finding discrepancies in bank statements. He hired a forensic accountant to review numerous accounts to find out the extent of the losses, Young said.

McMullen was let go the same day as the confrontation and locks and passwords were changed at the company, Young said.

McMullen admitted to shuffling about $600,000 and spending about half of that.

She said she handled all of the bills for herself, two adult sons, one of whom was away at college, and her husband, Malcolm "Mac" McMullen, a Largo Police Department accreditation specialist on military leave and living in Arizona, Young said.

Mac McMullen didn't know about his wife's activities when contacted by police, Young said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

Employee accused of bilking Largo's Buxton Properties 05/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 9:05am]

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