Former controller of Estridge Homes accused of $364K fraud scheme

Thomas Carter, the former controller for Carmel-based Estridge Homes, has been charged with siphoning at least $364,000 from the homebuilder, according to a federal bank fraud indictment unsealed this week.

In early 2013, Carter began transferring money from Estridge’s accounts at Lake City Bank to his own, according to the indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Indianapolis on Oct. 19.

According to the indictment, Carter either would issue Estridge Homes checks to himself, and then delete the check entry in the firm’s accounting software, or would code payment checks to third-party vendors in the accounting software, when in fact he was the payee.

Estridge Homes initially was unaware of the transfers, according to court records.

Court documents say the scheme became more complex in March of this year, when at least two Estridge-related accounts became overdrawn, and a Lake City Bank employee warned Carter that the overdrafts could not continue. Carter claimed more funds would be wired to the accounts.

From April 22 to May 4, Carter “provided false and misleading documents and information” relating to more than $1.1 million in wire transfers he claimed were from Wells Fargo, the indictment states. The wires didn't exist.

In a statement released Wednesday, Paul Estridge Jr., president of Estridge Homes, said the firm discovered Carter’s activity in May and reported it to Lake City Bank.

“All irregularities were addressed immediately following the discovery and our business continues as normal.  We have dealt with the situation by involving law enforcement against our former controller, and we are pleased that the matter is going to court,” Estridge said.

Carter is charged in the indictment with trying to defraud the bank and obtain funds under the control of the bank through false pretenses.

A plea of not guilty has been entered for Carter, according to court records. A trial date is set for Dec. 27.

An attorney appointed to represent Carter declined to comment Thursday before first being able to meet with his client.

Carter faces a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publish date to reflect that Carter's attorney declined to comment.

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