Ex-WGAW employee charged with embezzlement

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A former WGA West employee was charged Thursday by the federal government of conspiring with another to embezzle more than $17,000 from foreign levies payments a year ago.

The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Michelle Trinh, 28, a former assistant administrator for the WGAW's Foreign Levies Fund, with setting up a fake membership account for her friend in order to receive the funds.

Her accomplice. Tracey Howze, 45, was also charged with conspiracy to embezzle.

Trinh and Howze, both of Los Angeles, have already agreed to plead guilty to the charges. They will be formally arraigned next month before being sentenced. They each face a maximum of five years in federal prison.

Authorities say an account was created in the union's database so that checks would be cut in Howze name from the fund, which is held in trust by the guild for disbursement to members or their heirs.

Foreign levies are imposed on such things as home video rentals, theatrical releases and cable distribution.

In a statement, the WGA said it started investigating Trinh in March 2007 when her supervisor found she had authorized payments from the foreign levies trust account to an unknown payee, who was Howze. She was immediately fired.

The guild then conducted an internal investigation, which included the assistance of a forensic accounting firm, then turned its findings over to the U.S. Department of Labor, which launched its own investigation.

"The WGAW cooperated in every phase of the federal prosecution," the WGA said. "The losses to the foreign levies program have been fully recovered from insurance proceeds."
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