Three would-be thieves entered the main vault at The First National Bank in Walnut Ridge sometime in the spring 2005. These thieves didn’t wear masks or sneak into the building under the cover of night. They had the keys to the vault.
During the next 10 years, three longtime, trusted employees – Brenda Montgomery, Cindy Tate, and Peggy Sutton stole more than $3.9 million in cash from the vault. Their scheme was exposed during a surprise audit in 2015, according to federal prosecutors. It was one of the largest bank scams in recent memory in Northeast Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker sentenced Tate, a Walnut Ridge resident, to 57 months in federal prison on Friday in Little Rock. Sutton, of Biggers, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison. The two women also received three years of supervised release. Montgomery, of Walnut Ridge, received 57 months in prison and three years of supervised release during her sentencing on Thursday. Each defendant has been ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution.
Attempts by Talk Business & Politics to reach First National Bank President Milton Smith for comment were unsuccessful. Smith has avoided speaking to the media since the thefts were exposed, but did tell a reporter in 2015 that customer deposits at the bank were safe, and customers had nothing to fear.
The three women orchestrated an elaborate ruse to steal money from the vault, according to prosecutors. The trio took cash from the vault, and replaced it with cash from other bank branch vaults in advance of audits. Tate knew when internal audits would take place, and instructed Montgomery and Sutton to get money from the other bank branches or other bank institutions to satisfy the report sheet totals and live counts.
Once an audit was completed, the women removed the money and returned it. The scheme went undetected until higher ups at the bank became suspicious about the three women’s activities, according to prosecutors. A surprise internal audit was ordered in April 2015, and revealed a cash deficit. A forensic audit confirmed it was Montgomery, Tate, and Sutton who stole the money.
The three women pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges in May, 2015. They have been free on bond. Montgomery and Tate are slated to self-report to federal prison Nov. 14. Sutton is scheduled to report Oct. 31.