Prison term for stealing $270K from Gurnee firm
By Beth Kramer firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 7:36PM
Updated: March 24, 2013 6:08AM
By the time a Gurnee couple realized how much money a trusted employee stole from their business, their life saving’s were depleted, their life insurance policies cashed in.
The good news is that the couple’s business remains intact. More good news for the couple, whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy, is the former employee responsible was sentenced to five years in prison.
Helen Wilcox, 46, took an open plea to one count of felony theft Wednesday before Lake County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Shanes.
She was charged with stealing about $270,000 from Country Living Construction of Gurnee from February 2007 through December 2009, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Hoffert. Theft is punishable four to 15 years in prison.
Wilcox, formerly of Gurnee and now of Frankfort took an open plea deal. She would receive a cap of six years in prison in exchange for her guilty plea, according to Hoffert.
“We’re absolutely relieved and delighted that she is off the street. We are hoping she does get some kind of counseling while she is behind bars,” said one of the owners of Country Living Construction.
The business was started in 1978 to remodel homes, specializing in kitchen, baths and windows.
Wilcox was hired in 2002. The thefts started in 2005, according the owners.
“She got close enough to the family that we never suspected. She started with smaller increments that gradually got larger ... people look at us and wonder how can you be so oblivious, but she was so good at what she did,” one of the owners said.
Wilcox did not pay the company’s taxes for a period of two-and-a-half years. The owners said they were unaware because Wilcox had changed the mailing address so that all tax documents were mailed to her former Gurnee address.
Wilcox forged signatures from the business owners and used company credit cards for personal purchases, according to the owners. Although she was formally charged with stealing less than $300,000, the owners calculate that they lost closer to $700,000 between the missing money and penalties from the IRS.
The owners thought they should have more money from their business. They knew something was amiss when they discovered Wilcox had changed the account PIN number keeping them from their account.
They will not be getting restitution because Shanes found Wilcox was unable to pay. Given that she is going to prison, the owners said they did not expect Wilcox would be able to get a job to pay them back.
“Four years (after the theft was discovered), the business is still intact. It was a real long, hard three years while it was pending in court ... I was delighted the judge could see through her,” one of the owners said.