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Woman accused of stealing $90K+ from local businesses

Woman accused of stealing thousands from local businesses arrested

A woman accused of stealing from two local companies is out of jail. The business owners who said she cost them thousands of dollars want others in the area to be aware of who they hire.

Linda Hanford has been charged with larceny and fraud. Court documents state Hanford stole about $60,000 from Lender Services, Inc. between 2005 and 2017. Company owner Eddie Mercer said it's actually closer to $100,000 if not more.

"I feel that she certainly hoodwinked all of us," said Mercer.

Mercer hired Hanford as a sub-contract laborer, but he didn't run a background check at the time, which he now regrets.

"She didn't want to go through the payroll company, she didn't want any taxes taken out of her check, she didn't want to be an employee, she wanted to be a sub-contract laborer," said Mercer. "We agreed to that, and all those things are red flags."

Hanford worked at the business, selling golf cart parts online. Court documents state she set up a PayPal account in her name.

"She was redacting the sales, so they weren't showing in our system," said Mercer. "She was deleting the sales. We started calling these customers and they told us how they paid, and they paid a PayPal account that we didn't know about."

During the investigation, Hanford filed a lawsuit against Mercer, citing unpaid wages and overtime. Mercer has responded with a counter-lawsuit, which Hanford said is retaliation.

Channel 3 checked court records. This isn't Hanford's first run-in with the law. In 2000, she was arrested for failing to pay taxes. In 2005, records show she was arrested again for stealing more than $30,000 from another small business in Pensacola.

"She's a habitual offender and she's a con artist," said Knut Bergan, CEO of Ian-Conrad Bergan, Inc.

Bergan told Channel 3's Hannah Mackenzie he did a background check before hiring Hanford to handle his accounting. Nothing abnormal showed up, but he told us he later learned her record had been sealed and she was on probation.

"The terms of her probation was that she could go out and seek employment," said Bergan. "And if I called in, it would not show up."

Hanford was convicted of grand larceny, fraud, and forgery. What really hurt the business though, she also failed to pay IRS payroll taxes, which led to a $74,000 penalty. Hanford is paying back what she owes, but Bergan said it's not consistent, and in the end, it's not going to matter.

"The problem is that these people who embezzle, they get their judgment, they're on probation and there's no follow up," said Bergan.

For Mercer, he's still looking at a long legal battle.

"We're disappointed and hurt by it," said Mercer. "But it looks to us like she's done this, so I guess the court will figure it out."

Hanford is scheduled to appear in court on January 26.

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