Plumbing Company Owner Guilty of 401(k) Plan Theft

A U.S. District Court jury found the former owner of a plumbing company in Texas guilty of embezzling from its 401(k) plan.

U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas presided over the case in which Thomas Buehler, president and owner of Northlake Plumbing, Inc., was the focus of a civil investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). A plan participant had complained that Buehler withheld employee contributions to the plan from participants’ paychecks and had not contributed the funds to the plan. Buehler was then accused of terminating the plan, which had five participants with balances.  

Instead of instructing Oppenheimer Funds to pay out the participants, Buehler told Oppenheimer to liquidate the plan’s assets and issue checks to him, as the plan trustee, according to the announcement. Oppenheimer issued and mailed Buehler five checks, totaling $55,787. A few days later, Buehler deposited all five checks into the Northlake Plumbing account.  

A second EBSA investigation was conducted after a participant complained that Buehler had refused to distribute funds from the 401(k) even though he had terminated the plan. The court found that Buehler had unlawfully diverted approximately $52,693 of the plan’s assets to himself.   

During its earlier investigation, EBSA determined that Buehler had not remitted employee contributions into the plan in a timely manner in some instances, or not at all in others, and issued a voluntary compliance letter to Buehler directing him to deposit $15,576 into the plan to correct the violation – Buehler complied.