Brown Announces Arrest of Central Valley Bank Manager on Charges of Embezzling Nearly $700,000 From Customers
FRESNO -- Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced the arrest today of bank manger Jeri Sell, who two years ago was named Tulare Woman of the Year, on felony charges of embezzling $679,000 from customers of the Tulare branch of Citizens Business Bank, some of whom were friends of hers. An investigation showed she had a serious gambling problem.
Sell, 55, was arrested at her home this morning by Tulare police. She was charged in a complaint filed by Brown’s attorneys with five felony counts of embezzlement.
“This inside job is a painful case of violated trust,” Brown said. “A person who was an honored and respected pillar of the community apparently took money for her own use that had been deposited, in full confidence that it would remain safe, by people she knew.”
The complaint alleged that Sell withdrew funds from several customers’ accounts from 2005 to 2009 and used her position as manager to conceal her thefts from both the customers and the bank.
One couple lost $203,110.27. In reviewing a long list of unauthorized withdrawals, the wife demonstrated that it was impossible she had made them. For example, a withdrawal for $4,000 on March 17, 2006, she could not have made because she was out of town at a pistachio convention. Another withdrawal was made at the same moment she was getting a body wrap treatment.
Another customer lost $298,000. A bank employee said Sell requested $50,000 in cash for the customer, then took the funds from the vault and placed the money in a zippered bag.
Sell was able to hide her theft from bank customers by placing mail holds on their accounts so they would not have access to their banks statements. When the unauthorized transactions were discovered, Sell claimed the cause was computer error and, in one case, alleged that a customer had been the victim of identity theft.
When the scheme was starting to unravel because of an internal bank audit, Sell left a voicemail for one customer who lost $84,575, saying, “I want to apologize, I’ve done some things on your account that I’m not proud of. I’m thinking of killing myself. Please call me back.”
Sell’s bank accounts showed unexplained deposits of more than $500,000, and the investigation revealed Sell had made ATM withdrawals at the Tachi Palace Resort and Casino in Lemoore of more than $379,000. Investigators concluded that Sell had a gambling issue and was losing money.
Sell had been a respected member of the Tulare community for more than three decades. Besides being named the Tulare Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of the Year in 2008, Sell was also a grand marshal of the Tulare County Fair Parade and was active in raising money for local bond drives.
Copies of the complaint and arrest warrant are attached.