Former manager of Cortez auto store faces felony charge in embezzlement

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The former manager of the former Midas auto shop in Cortez is facing charges of felony theft for allegedly embezzling just over $75,000 from the business during a three-month period that ended with his termination last July.

According to the affidavit for arrest warrant, Nathan Leo Wilkinson, 38, used a variety of methods to steal the money, including asking customers to pay in cash, pocketing those funds and voiding the sales tickets.

Wilkinson is also accused of ordering large quantities of tires from wholesale vendors, selling them by the truckload and keeping the proceeds. He allegedly would then intercept the invoices from the daily mail so the finance office remained unaware of these purchases and debts.

The arrest warrant for Wilkinson was issued Oct. 26 following a lengthy investigation by Cortez Police Detective Jennifer Goodall. Following a series of continuances and other procedures in Montezuma County Court, Wilkinson is now set for arraignment on April 18 in the 22nd Judicial District court. He remains free on a $2,000 bond.

According to the affidavit, the shop’s finance manager, Susan Carver, called police on July 21, 2018, and told the responding officer that Wilkinson had just been fired.

She said she was alerted to one alleged theft the previous day, when a customer came in saying he had bought four new tires for $471 but they were the wrong size. He reportedly had a copy of his receipt, but when Carver looked up his order, it showed a ticket that had been voided by Wilkinson. The customer said that Wilkinson had been “acting strange” and had asked him to pay in cash, supposedly because he had already done the books for the night.

After that, Carver reportedly found a total of 53 voided tickets adding up to $16,900. She also told police that a vendor, Tire Dealers Warehouse, had called Midas saying they were past due for a $14,790 bill, although Carver said the Cortez store had not used that company since January 2018.

Further work by police in cooperation with Carver found that the total missing amount was $75,096. The total included “missing deposits, discounted parts, work done on personal vehicles, voided receipts, parts ordered and not entered into the database, sales conducted from voided tickets and cash not entered into the database, and tire sales which were not entered into the database,” according to the affidavit.

Goodall interviewed another former employee who was fired along with Wilkinson. According to the affidavit, he admitted having new tires put on his 2004 Ford Excursion at Midas for free, but said Wilkinson had told him that he could pay them off over time. The ex-employee said he had not actually made any payments before he was fired.

He also told police that Wilkinson had ordered 16 tires for a man in Page, Ariz., who runs a tour company, who picked the tires up in a large pickup truck. He said he was certain the man had paid for them. However, according to the affidavit, Carver said she believed the transaction had been done in cash and the tires were never placed into the Midas system, just “rolled out the front door of the store.”

Wilkinson also is alleged to have had parts installed and other work done on his vehicle and his family’s vehicles, such as a lift kit on his father’s vehicle and tires for his Jeep, without paying for them.

Cody Dennison, the owner of the business, told the Four Corners Free Press that according to the DA’s office, Wilkinson has been offered a plea bargain under which his felony theft charges would be deferred for a probationary period of two to four years, during which time he would be required to pay full restitution for the myriad thefts, and if he satisfied these conditions, the charges would be reduced to a misdemeanor conviction.

A motion for a restitution order in the amount of $76,096.04 was filed in district court by Assistant DA Matthew Margeson on Jan. 24.

“If he completes the probation and pays back all that restitution, then he would get away with a misdemeanor,” Dennison said “If he does not pay back all that restitution at the end of his probation, the felony would stick and it goes into a judgment.”

Dennison said he had some concerns about the possible plea bargain. “I voiced my concern [to the district attorney’s office] because they’d offered him the same plea bargain when they thought he’d stolen only $12,000.

“I guess my main regard is I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, because it’s not fair for small business owners that do what they can to help the community and provide for other families.”

Dennison now operates the business under the name of America’s Auto Care, with stores in Cortez and Durango. He said he’d previously owned five Midas stores, but sold them to create his own brand.

“ W e rebranded to keep the money local,” he explained. “We’re going to survive this and keep our heads above water, but the biggest lesson it’s taught me in business is – it’s a sad world but there’s [crooked] people out there and you’ve got to watch everyone.”

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