Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Largo bookkeeper accused of stealing to pay off previous theft

LARGO — After Kristina Melvin was fired, the company wanted to figure out how much money she had stolen from them.

They stopped counting at $600,000.

Melvin, an accountant for Largo-based Revenue Assurance Holdings, had altered payroll records and printed up checks bearing the forged signature of owner Nile Nickel.

When she got caught in 2008, Nickel said, she turned to lies. First she said she didn't do it. Then she accused Nickel of being in on it. When it became clear that she was in trouble, she told a sheriff's detective that she and Nickel had been having an affair, charges Nickel denied.

Ultimately, the evidence pointed only to her. The company was financially crippled, forcing Nickel to lay off most of his staff.

He thought she would go to prison. When she got 10 years' probation as a result of a plea deal, he was stunned.

"Everything we thought we knew about her, we didn't really know at all," Nickel said. "We worried that she was going to do this to somebody else."

That, authorities say, is exactly what happened.

On May 1, Melvin, 45, was jailed on charges that she embezzled more than $100,000 from SeatsAndChairs.com, where she worked as a bookkeeper from 2008 to 2012. She used some of the stolen funds to pay restitution to Nickel's company, according to detectives.

While the new allegations have yet to be proven in court, Melvin's past misdeeds and tales from those who knew her create a portrait of a troubled woman who is not above lying and stealing.

• • •

Her troubles began with 21 suspicious checks.

They were written for thousands of dollars over a period of two months in 2008. All drew from the business account of Revenue Assurance Holdings, which handles financial audits for cellphone companies. All the checks were made out to Melvin.

An investigator for Achieva Credit Union, where Melvin made the deposits, concluded that she would write the checks to herself, forging Nickel's signature, and altered company bank statements to hide the activity.

She would then put stop payments on the transactions before writing another company check to cover the overdraft fees.

Altogether, the credit union accused Melvin of stealing about $50,000.

When confronted, Melvin denied the theft. Later, she said had been having financial problems and promised to pay back the amount she had taken. Nickel believed her. He didn't fire her right away.

A month later, in June 2008, bank investigators contacted police after Melvin failed to repay the missing funds. She was then arrested on a charge of uttering a forged instrument.

But that was only the beginning.

At about the same time, the company noticed more suspicious checks, stretching back to 2005, when Melvin was hired.

They pored over their financial records and discovered thousands of transactions she had made through company accounts. None were documented in her personal expense reports, Nickel said.

The company's final tally was striking. A total of $99,244.13 was charged in undocumented travel expenses. About $50,000 was spent on meals and entertainment. A total of $14,000 went to pay for clothing. All told, Melvin stole $600,000 in three years' time, Nickel said.

Under questioning from a Pinellas County sheriff's detective, Melvin said all the transactions were related to business. She would pay out-of-pocket for the various expenses and then reimburse herself with the company's money.

She claimed that Nickel was aware of it all. She also said he gave her permission to sign his name on checks, and had even directed her to alter some financial records using Wite-Out.

Despite the company's documentation of the theft, much of the case pitted Nickel's word against Melvin's. After she pleaded guilty, a judge withheld adjudication, meaning there would be no conviction on her record if she successfully completed 10 years of probation.

To Nickel, that was a laugh. He says he knew she wouldn't make it.

• • •

Before 2008, there was little to suggest that Melvin might end up behind bars.

David Bradberry met her in the mid '80s, after she had graduated from Osceola High School, he said. He knew her by her maiden name, Kristina Dietrich.

She was, a "crowd-getter," Bradberry said, always charming and beautiful. In April 1986, they married.

He remembers a hard-working young woman, who put in long hours at the Publix at Bryan Dairy and Starkey roads. She loved caring for horses and competed in horse shows all her life. She was a loving mother to their two sons, David and Matt.

But when Bradberry speaks of her now, the good memories are tinged with gray. She always wanted the best things — an expensive car, a four-bedroom house, fur coats, money. But the more she got, he said, the more she wanted.

Bills piled up. She mounted a hefty credit card debt, he said. She started staying out late, sometimes as late as midnight. She made up lies, Bradberry said, telling of having to tend horses or helping to close up the store.

"She had all the characteristics of being a habitual liar," he said. "She was extremely good at it."

They divorced in 1991.

"It's almost a sickness," Bradberry said. "Where she turned the corner, being devious and lying, I don't know. Obviously she's not happy."

• • •

Melvin is now in the Pinellas County Jail facing a grand theft charge. The new accusations are remarkably similar to the ones she faced in 2008.

Detectives say she set up a PayPal account and used it to route money to her personal bank account from SeatsAndChairs.com, where she worked as a bookkeeper from 2008 to 2011.

Investigators also say she altered that company's payroll records to give herself a $5,600 "stipend," and used a company credit card to pay an $800 fee to a Venice horse show in which she competed.

This time, Nickel hopes the court stops her from doing it again.

"She clearly needs to be in a different environment," he said. "She meets that definition of a menace to society."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]

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