Payroll Employee Charged with Stealing 401(k) Plan Money

A former payroll administrator for a Houston recycling company has been indicted for stealing paychecks and 401(k) plan money.

United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced that an investigation conducted by the Department of Labor and FBI led to the return of a 15-count indictment on July 1. Maria Teresa Cardenas is charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, embezzlement from an employee benefit plan, and identity theft.

According to the announcement, the indictment alleges that during a two-year period beginning in 2004, Cardenas caused the company to issue paychecks to a former employee with a name similar to her own and then deposited the paychecks into her own personal bank account. It also alleges that she caused an employee benefit plan management company to issue checks drawn on the 401(k) accounts of other employees or former employees, forged signatures of the payees, and deposited the checks into her bank account.

Each of the five wire fraud counts carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years imprisonment, upon conviction. The seven embezzlement counts carry maximum statutory penalties of five years imprisonment. The three aggravated identity theft charges each carry a mandatory statutory penalty of two years imprisonment, which must be served consecutively to any sentence imposed for a wire fraud or embezzlement conviction. In addition to prison terms, each of the 15 counts also carry a statutory maximum fine of $250,000.