Wadaga takes stand

L’ANSE – The woman accused of embezzling more than $20,000 from her former employer took the stand again Wednesday on the eighth day of her trial in Baraga County Circuit Court.

Cynthia Wadaga, 47, testified Wednesday, discussing operations at First Choice Auto Body and giving alternate explanations for the transactions flagged in the 89 prosecution exhibits.

Wadaga worked for First Choice Auto Body in L’Anse from June 2009 to June 2011, when she was fired for allegedly embezzling from the company. Her attorney, George Hyde, questioned her about the circumstances surrounding her dismissal.

Business co-owner William Ross had described becoming suspicious when only two of four $100 bills that had been in the cash box were marked for deposit. However, Wadaga said some of the bills could have been split between deposits at the shop’s account and a separate account for its towing business. It’s also possible that she had exchanged the $100 for change for the shop’s register.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” she said.

When confronted by Ross about the alleged embezzlement, Wadaga had tried to go to her work computer, which Ross testified he had seen as her trying to edit the accounts. Instead, Wadaga said, she had tried to log onto her computer to show him the bank deposit records.

Wadaga again said Ross had a reputation for taking money out of the company’s tills. There had been a running joke among the First Body employees, she said, that Ross was “like a kid in a candy store” with cash. Ross would frequently leave IOUs in the cash box for money taken out, Wadaga said.

Contradicting Ross, she said he never paid those debts. Many of the employees had started actively trying to keep cash out of Ross’s hands, she said.

“After a while, when we figured out what he was doing with cash, we tried to keep cash away from him and out of his hands, to the point where tow truck drivers would give me a tow ticket that they went on, the cash would be behind the pay ticket paper-clipped so Willie would not even see the cash,” she said.

Wadaga said she, like a Tuesday witness who sometimes bought parts from Ross, had heard Ross said his paycheck goes to bills at home, while his cash came from First Choice.

Reviewing one of the 89 prosecution exhibits, Wadaga believed it was from an occasion Ross took $100 out of the cash box to go to the American Legion and told Wadaga to mark it as tools or equipment.

“I told him it wasn’t right to me,” she said. “He said it’s his business, it’s his money and he could do what he wants. Then he went to the Legion and proceeded to brag about taking $100 from the business.”

Another exhibit included checks from two people Wadaga said were good friends of Ross’s – one for $20 and another for $146.01, both of which went to the bank, but were not in the deposit detail.

One check Wadaga thought was made out for a larger amount for cash back. One was a check signed by one of two people in a two-party check, who Wadaga said gave it to the shop in exchange for $20 out of the cash box.

“Is that embezzlement by you? Did you do anything to take that money?” Hyde asked.

“No,” Wadaga replied.

Another exhibit had an expense of $53, which was subsequently voided out.

In that case, she said, Ross had told her to throw in free mud flaps for a customer whose family had hit three or four deer in the span of a year.