Witnesses: Woman pilfered $200K, ruined Ossineke business
ALPENA — A Spruce woman accused of stealing $200,000, raising her own salary, and forcing a relative’s company out of business appeared in Alpena’s 88th District Court on Tuesday.
Gena Carstens, 58, is charged with embezzlement after a police investigation implicated her in the theft of bank deposit and cash register money while she was bookkeeper at Ossineke Building Supply in Ossineke.
In Tuesday’s preliminary examination, witnesses said Carstens was in control of the store’s money when the $200,000 went missing — a loss the store’s former owner said forced the sale of the family business.
Carstens denies the charges.
The exam will continue this afternoon, when Judge Thomas LaCross may decide whether the prosecution has offered evidence convincing enough to allow the case to continue to trial.
On Tuesday, Alpena County Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski questioned both an expert in fraud investigation and Carstens’ sister-in-law, Annette Carstens.
Annette and Rick Carstens owned Ossineke Building Supply, where Rick’s brother, Marty, and his wife, Gena, were employed.
In 2018, six years after Rick Carstens was incapacitated by a stroke, he and his wife were forced to sell the business when it couldn’t stay financially solvent, his wife told the court.
Although she was suspicious about the company’s decreasing bank account balance, she didn’t learn hundreds of thousands of dollars had gone missing until after the sale, Annette Carstens testified.
The company’s sales receipts and bank statements show an increasing amount of money recorded in cash sales but not deposited in the bank since Gena Carstens became bookkeeper in 2010, according to testimony by Cynthia Scott, a certified public accountant who investigated the business’s financial records for fraud.
Beginning in 2013, the year after Rick Carstens’ stroke, money also began to go missing from the store’s cash register drawer with no supporting paperwork to explain its absence, Scott said.
By 2018, the missing money totaled more than $150,000 in deposits never made and $52,000 taken from the cash drawer, according to Scott.
When confronted with the discrepancies by her sister-in-law after the business closed, Gena Carstens denied taking money from the business.
“‘Either you’re lying, or you’re absolutely the worst bookkeeper in the world,'” Annette Carstens recalled saying to her sister-in-law during testimony on Tuesday.
Asked why she kept her sister-in-law on as an employee if suspicious of theft, Annette Carstens said the bookkeeper was the only person at the business who knew how to use the cash register’s operating system. She was afraid Gena would sabotage the system if ousted, Annette Carstens said.
After Rick Carstens’ stroke, his sister-in-law’s salary increased twice — according to Annette Carstens, without authorization — making her the highest-paid employee, Scott testified.
Further questioning about the salary increase, as well as testimony about suspicious invoices Scott said she found during the fraud investigation, was delayed when LaCross recessed the exam because of the lateness of the hour.
Scott will resume testimony this afternoon. Defense attorney David Funk said he intended to use his cross examination to challenge the CPA’s testimony.