190312_SWEET

Nicole M. Baker was sentenced Monday to four years probation after pleading guilty to stealing more than $32,000 from her former employer, the SweetSpot Bakehouse in Whitewater.

ELKHORN

The former manager of the SweetSpot Bakehouse in Whitewater will serve four years of probation after pleading guilty to stealing more than $32,000 from her employer, court records show.

Small businesses such as the SweetSpot could be more susceptible to such crimes, Whitewater’s police chief says. With fewer workers, they don’t have the same ability to perform checks and balances as larger operations.

Nicole M. Baker pleaded guilty Friday to the only count she faced—theft of more than $10,000 in a business setting—as part of an agreement, according to online court records. She also must complete 40 hours of community service for each year of probation.

Lacey Reichwald, owner of the SweetSpot, said Monday that Baker has repaid the $32,612 she stole.

Walworth County prosecutors on March 7 charged Baker, 34, of 1140 Bloomingfield Drive, No. 9, Whitewater, with stealing money from the SweetSpot starting in January 2018.

Reichwald told police that sale and deposit records showed more than 50 missing deposits from 2018 and some of 2019 on days when Baker opened the store, according to the criminal complaint.

Baker told Reichwald she took the money because she needed it, according to the complaint. She kept taking more after she wasn’t caught.

Baker said she was remorseful.

Whitewater Police Chief Aaron Raap said Monday the types of thefts from businesses vary. They include theft of money, checks, merchandise and information. Thieves also can fraudulently charge vendors, manipulate payroll, engage in billing schemes and bribe others.

While cash is easy to steal, losses to inventory—even something such as batteries—can add up over time, he said.

Raap recommends restricting access to keys, computer data and inventory, as well as changing passwords frequently.

Fixing one hole in a business’ system might not be enough to stop what the chief called the “determined hacker,” an employee who will keep digging until he or she finds another way in.

“Unfortunately, you always have to be one step ahead of a determined employee thief,” he said.

Business owners must watch for irregular behaviors, such as workers who appear to be living beyond their means, suffering from addiction or showing signs of drastic life changes, Raap said.

Reichwald told police in December 2017 she gave Baker a cash advance of $1,300, but she told her it would be the last time she could do that, according to the complaint.

“That’s a telltale sign,” Raap said. “It doesn’t necessarily, you know, determine guilt, but it’s a telltale sign that you need to tighten things up and take a closer look.”

Raap encouraged businesses to “trust but verify” the work of employees who handle their books.

“Don’t ever assume that your bookkeeper who has been with your business forever is and always will be honest,” he said. “And obviously that person can then do a crazy amount of damage to your business.”

Raap said it’s up to businesses to report these incidents to police because police have no other way of learning about them.

He thinks it’s “highly likely” such thefts are not reported as much as they should be.

A business owner might decide it’s not worth the headache to report the incident and try to settle the matter behind closed doors. The absence of a record could mean the employee steals again from the next employer, Raap said.

In an email, Reichwald said she was “very grateful” for the community support she has gotten during the ordeal.

“Our customers, friends and neighbors have been really kind in reaching out and stopping by,” she said. “We are also grateful that we’ve had such a fast and positive resolution to the situation.

“We’re ready for everyone involved to move on.”