Fruit Cake Caper: East Texas town rocked by massive embezzlement at landmark company
By Barry Shlachter
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
CORSICANA — Everybody in town seems to know about the $16.6 million embezzlement uncovered last June at Corsicana’s landmark fruitcake producer, Collin Street Bakery.
But many residents remain befuddled by the case of Sandy Jenkins, the bakery’s $50,000-a-year corporate controller, who sits in a Dallas detention center charged with 10 counts of mail fraud, which he has denied. He faces a maximum sentence of 200 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine. His trial is scheduled to begin April 7.
Corsicanans are stumped over how the alleged siphoning went undetected for eight years while the accused led a glaringly opulent lifestyle — luxury cars, vacation homes, even a lavish wine collection — in this churchy, plain-cotton community 55 miles southeast of Fort Worth.
Although the headlines have faded, people still seethe over the targeting of the 117-year-old bakery, a mainstay of local civic generosity, not to mention a major source of hometown pride. When residents travel and mention that they hail from Corsicana, there’s instant recognition as the place where a million DeLuxe-brand fruitcakes are produced for Christmas.
Others wonder aloud how Jenkins' very public display of wealth didn't arouse suspicion. "It's crazy they didn’t catch it sooner,” said Richelle Perry, 28, co-manager of a popular local coffee shop, Roy’s Cafe. “Someone had to know.”
Many items of the multimillion-dollar jewelry cache seized by the FBI were worn by Sandy’s wife, Kay Jenkins, a one-time caterer. Yet she sees herself as a victim. Her recent divorce petition accused her husband of “fraud” against her during their 43-year marriage. They split five weeks after he was fired by Collin Street Bakery.
Sandy Jenkins attributed their good fortune to inheritances he and his wife had received, said Hayden Crawford, a bakery partner and its marketing chief.
Each had inherited money, Crawford said, but nothing approaching the $16.6 million that allegedly fueled a full-throttle spending spree from 2005 to last June. Kay Jenkins herself was later charged.
Sandy Jenkins has pleaded not guilty. But his attorney, Brett Stalcup, signed an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office in October that reads, “Jenkins acknowledges that making restitution to CSB [Collin Street Bakery] is in his best interest.”
The bakery has filed suit in Corsicana to recover its lost millions.
Federal prosecutors allege that the money was used to buy a $784,000 vacation home in Santa Fe, N.M., and to take 232 private chartered flights costing $3.2 million to places such as Martha’s Vineyard, Aspen, Napa Valley and the Caribbean resort islands of Turks and Caicos.
Stalcup declined to comment, saying he was involved in discussions with the prosecutors in the case. The attorney did not respond to a Star-Telegram request to interview Jenkins.
At home, the couple drove a parade of ever-changing luxury vehicles. Sandy Jenkins explained to a colleague that he always had an expensive set of wheels because, as an avid “auto trader,” he’d buy and sell cars in quick succession at what he claimed was little cost.
The feds seized four: a Lexus, a Mercedes, a GMC Denali SUV and a BMW.
The couple entertained lavishly, complemented by a 596-bottle wine collection, which was also seized in FBI raids. Other possessions confiscated include a $2,500 Waterford “12 Days of Christmas” ice bucket; stacks of Louis Vuitton luggage; a $60,000 Steinway piano; four fur garments, including a $15,000 mink coat from Neiman Marcus and a reversible mink-and-leather bomber jacket; and scores of handbags, including a $6,000 Hermes, according to court documents.
And, of course, there was the jewelry — a Van Cleef & Arpels-studded collection that likely would have left Louis IV wide-eyed. Appraisers for the FBI put the replacement cost of the couple’s valuables at more than $4.4 million.
Among the buckets of seized baubles were 43 gold, silver and platinum bracelets; 40 necklaces; 53 rings, among them a triple diamond number costing $72,000; not two but four wedding bands of 18-karat gold; and a $10,000 Sex in the City 2 ring with a 5-carat black diamond.
Prized by Jenkins was his collection of watches, of which 108 were seized, forming a Rolex-heavy, knee-deep pile of pocket and wrist models ranging as high as $61,150 apiece.
All of the intricate timepieces are in at least good condition, including two Rolexes that Jenkins tried to use as barter to pay his attorney — along with numerous others that somehow made their way to the bottom of Austin’s Lady Bird Lake.
But that’s a side yarn in this twisted story of greed, deceit, an all-too-trusting employer and a nearly perfect crime.
A foolproof scheme
Sandy A. Jenkins Jr., 65, grew up in Wortham, 25 miles south of Corsicana, where his father ran one of the small town’s two grocery stores.
An online profile said he attended Dallas Baptist University and later worked in the accounting department of a large corporation before joining Collin Street, Crawford said.
In Corsicana, his reputation was burnished through public acts of generosity, including large donations to school and arts programs, and to his Southern Baptist church. People knew they could find support from Jenkins, a chubby, likable and well-dressed man.
He was also known for spontaneous acts of kindness, Crawford said, like walking down from the upper-story executive offices to buy lunch for the entire counter staff of the ground-floor retail bakery.
Like other members of the local establishment, Jenkins belonged to the Corsicana Country Club which, its website says, strives to attract members of the “highest caliber.” The grocer’s son fit in, hosting lavish dinners washed down by costly vintage wines in his stately, 3,400-square-foot Victorian home, now empty and marked by a “sales pending” sign.
Based on court filings by the FBI, the U.S. attorney and interviews with Crawford and others who knew him, Jenkins allegedly executed an almost-foolproof scheme.
For example, Collin Street spent huge amounts on pecans for its nut-rich cakes and on postage to mail tons of promotional materials. Large checks written to the bakery’s sibling enterprise, the Navarro Pecan Co., or the U.S. Postal Service, would be entered into its books without corresponding purchase orders or invoice numbers.
Those checks would then be canceled, but the accounting entries left unchanged. Fresh checks, again carrying CEO Bob McNutt’s electronic signature, were generated. Those checks were sent by Express Mail and ended up in Jenkins’ accounts.
As chief controller, he had no one looking over his shoulder. FBI Special Agent Christine Edson said in an affidavit that the bakery’s books had not been audited since Jenkins was hired in February 1998. Moreover, the CEO never reviewed checks carrying his reproduced signature.
“We have a family-owned, family-run business where trust is foundational,” Crawford said, explaining the bakery’s management culture.
The timing couldn’t have been better for an embezzler. Collin Street was going through big transitions, launching and then expanding free-standing bakeries in Central and East Texas to make up for declining, and highly seasonal, fruitcake sales.
At the same time, it took a big gamble by developing the world’s largest organic pineapple plantation in Costa Rica without any first-hand experience in agriculture in the United States, let alone Central America. (The radical, out-of-character initiative for the bakery has proved successful, Crawford says.)
“All these inflows and outflows of money add layers of complexity that also helped hide the theft,” Crawford said.
Whether by accident or design, he said, just enough was embezzled to skim profits, but it didn’t go “deep enough to hurt the business and raise immediate red flags.”
Top management knew something was wrong, however.
Over the past five years, it had reviewed operations to try to find the problem but looked in all the wrong places — inventory theft, labor costs, mismanagement, he said.
“We were blindsided,” Crawford said. “We were so focused on every other part of the business, and so confident in the integrity of our people, that we overlooked the elephant in the room.”
Then an accounting clerk named Semetric Williams, a conscientious former bank teller who had been with the company less than a year, brought some questionable entries to the attention of her boss, Chief Controller Sandy Jenkins.
It was June 20, 2013. That day the scheme unraveled.
“Oh, I know what it is. I’ll fix it tomorrow,” Jenkins was quoted as telling her before leaving for the day.
She knew it was serious and brought the matter up with two of Jenkins’ superiors, telling them that she had uncovered a large embezzlement and that the revelations made her fear for her safety.
Williams had found that a $20,000 check had been written for a $10,000 postal bill.
Confronted the next day by two superiors, Jenkins insisted that only a $10,000 check would clear and went to lunch.
But Williams reviewed eight months of accounts payable records and found more discrepancies. In all, the bakery would determine that 888 forged checks had paid out $16,649,786.91.
“Semetric saved us enormous amounts,” Crawford said.
At one point, he said, Jenkins blamed a computer glitch. But when the executives pointed to a series of such “glitches,” Jenkins purportedly replied, “Would it do any good if I admit it — not saying I am guilty — but would it go easier?”
He was told the police already had been called.
Jewelry in the lake
Later arguing that Jenkins be held without bail as a flight risk, federal prosecutors cited curious actions after his June 21 firing.
They say Jenkins filled two reusable grocery bags with jewelry, watches and $62,500 in cash, then drove to Austin, where he asked their adult daughter to lock the sacks in a safe.
Jenkins then ducked the fallout in Corsicana by holing up in Santa Fe until hearing of FBI raids on his home and a secluded storage unit.
Traveling back to Austin, he handed a blue, insulated Whole Foods grocery bag full of valuables to his daughter, instructing her to take them somewhere away from her home, according to court documents. She quoted him as saying it contained his retirement holdings that he could not afford to lose, an FBI report said.
It was a trying situation for Allison K. Jenkins, 35, an Austin chef in the middle of transforming her well-regarded French food truck, Say laV, into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. After conferring with her attorney, she gave the blue bag back to her father.
No one has seen the bag since, according to the FBI, and Jenkins declined to answer questions about its whereabouts.
But some of the contents did turn up. And in a very unlikely place.
An off-duty member of the University of Texas campus police spotted a strange reflection in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, formerly Town Lake.
Reaching down, he pulled a watch from the water, then another, said Crawford, who was briefed by authorities. Divers later recovered what amounted to about 40 pounds of timepieces and jewelry.
If convicted, Jenkins will have gone from hosting elaborate dinner parties for his Corsicana gourmet club to sharing prison rations with felons.
Collin Street Bakery says it has been chastened by the experience.
“Sandy was a friend, a trusted associate,” said Crawford. “We were operating a 117-year-old business much like it had always been run. It goes without saying, we’ve learned our lesson and made the necessary changes to safeguard us from this kind of thing in the future.
“But when this was going down, our suspicions fell on everything except our own people,” he added. “We are obviously far better at making a quality fruitcake than spotting a thief."
UPDATE: Sandy Jenkins has entered a guilty plea. Sentencing has been repeatedly postponed and is now scheduled for April 15, 2015. Prosecutors have requested a delay for the trial of his estranged wife, Kay, who is charged with money laundering and making a false statement to a financial institution. It had been set for Jan. 26.