A former office manager of Bernie J. Buchner Inc. is in La Crosse County Jail after being charged with embezzling almost $1 million from the company.
Gary Deml, 62, of La Crosse, allegedly stole $958,864.97 between 2001 and 2010 from the La Crosse-based plumbing and heating contractor, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in La Crosse County Circuit Court.
“It’s devastating,” Gary Buchner, the company’s president, said Wednesday. “He was a company officer and on the board of directors. I never suspected anything was going on.”
According to the criminal complaint, company representatives became aware of a problem this month when M&I Bank contacted Gary Buchner to say there was not enough money in the company account to cover payroll. Gary Buchner ordered an audit of company finances, which uncovered multiple checks made out to Deml’s former company, All-Seasons Refrigeration Inc., according to the criminal complaint.
The checks contained approving signatures of company executives Gary Buchner, James Wagner and Marlin Buchner, according to the complaint, but all three men said they had not permitted the checks to be written or signed.
Deml’s attorney, Christopher Dyer of Onalaska-based Dyer Law Firm LLC, said he has not seen any of the evidence against his client and declined to comment on whether he would fight the allegations.
“It’s a decision that’s pending,” he said. “I assume a not guilty plea will be entered, but it’s still to be seen whether this will go to trial or how the matter will proceed.”
District Attorney Tim Gruenke, said company finances are still under investigation and the amount missing could increase. He said he did not know whether more charges would be filed or how the company would recoup the money.
“We don’t know where the money went,” he said.
Deml is charged with theft in a business setting of more than $10,000.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. Cash bond was set at $500,000.
According to the criminal complaint, Deml was the owner of Sparta-based All-Seasons Refrigeration, and was hired by Buchner in 2000. At the time of the hiring, according to the complaint, Buchner bought out All-Seasons Refrigeration, and believed Deml closed the company. Buchner has since learned that All-Seasons Refrigeration still existed, with Deml listed as an agent for it, according to the complaint.
Deml called in sick on April 8, Buchner said, and has not returned to work or had contact with company representatives since. Deml was arrested Monday.
Gruenke said he has dealt with embezzlement cases before, but not of this magnitude.
“This type of crime happens in good and bad economic times,” he said. “But I can’t recall ever seeing this much money involved before.”