Convicted Transition Partners embezzler Tony Gutierrez dipped into funds, dreams

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 1, 2010

Shortly after Jose "Tony" Gutierrez began working as an accountant for Transition Partners, a Reston IT consulting firm, he began stealing thousands of dollars from the company. He hid his work well, and the company couldn't figure out where its money was going.

One by one, the 40-employee company had to begin laying off longtime workers. But Gutierrez kept stealing, court records show. His jobless former colleagues, who all liked Gutierrez and never suspected him, began dipping into their retirement funds and ignoring medical needs.

And Gutierrez kept stealing.

Finally last year, a co-worker discovered his scheme. Soon, Transition Partners realized Gutierrez had embezzled more than $1.1 million, forcing 10 people to be laid off and driving the company to the brink of insolvency. He was arrested and soon confessed to the embezzlement.

On Friday, Gutierrez was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Fairfax County judge, who called the incident "the worst case of embezzlement I've ever seen."

The 10-year term is unusual for a white-collar defendant in Fairfax, where large embezzlements frequently net scant jail time -- state sentencing guidelines called for probation for Gutierrez. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush also ordered Gutierrez to repay the entire $1.1 million to Transition Partners.

"I'm truly sorry," Gutierrez told Roush. "My ethical compass just stopped working and I became lost."

Roush noted that Gutierrez, 46, of Winchester, had stolen from his previous employer. Court records show that Gutierrez admitted stealing about $35,000 from the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County between 2002 and 2004, when he was the director of finance, but he reached an agreement to repay the money in exchange for no criminal charges being filed against him. Transition Partners officials said they were unaware of his past when they hired him in January 2005.

By May 2005, court records show, Gutierrez was writing checks to himself, almost always in amounts between $2,500 and $3,900. Thomas Pettibone, the managing partner of Transition Partners, said that the transactions were disguised as payments into a health-insurance benefits fund and that Gutierrez removed pages of bank statements showing the checks written to himself and created thousands of phony computerized accounting entries to indicate money was being paid to the Aetna insurance company.

By 2006, when Gutierrez stole $300,000 in increments of about $4,500, the company had to borrow money to stay afloat and terminated its first employee, Pettibone said. "Tony oversaw those loans while continuing to steal," Pettibone said.

Over the next three years, more employees were laid off. Salaries were cut, bonuses eliminated. But Gutierrez spent nearly $300,000 renovating a Porsche sports car, court records show, as well as $187,000 on home improvements, cars for his wife and teenage daughter and nearly $48,000 on vacations.

Meanwhile, a former co-worker in his early 60s, with four children ages 15 to 22, was laid off, forcing him to deplete his 401(k) retirement fund, ignore medical needs and stop helping his children with college costs, Pettibone told Roush.

"Tony's actions shredded families' dreams, plans and hopes," Pettibone said. He said Gutierrez "appeared a good friend to all and, frankly, was well-liked," but that he was "in reality a cold, calculating long-term thief."

After the company discovered the thefts and confronted Gutierrez, he still tried to access company accounts online, Pettibone said. Fairfax police were called and Gutierrez was arrested last June. Fairfax police did not disclose the arrest publicly at any time. Police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said she was not familiar with the case.

Gutierrez pleaded guilty in January to four counts of embezzlement and was taken into custody. His defense lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun, said Gutierrez had mental-health issues, as indicated by his willingness to steal again after being caught in 2004, and his overspending on a Porsche with a maximum value of $60,000. He said Gutierrez had not hidden or saved any of the stolen money.

Pettibone said he was pleased by the 10-year sentence, and that business was starting to come back to his company.

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