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Lantana man stole $100K from employer to pay for baseball, deputies say

When business owner Roger Mauermann met Robert Murphy at a youth baseball game, Mauermann decided to take a chance.

Murphy — a recent east coast transplant looking for work — boasted a financial savvy and hard work ethic, which led Mauermann to hire him. When Mauermann's son got into a serious car accident in September 2012, Mauermann asked Murphy to step in to run the business.

"He wanted to come help us at work and help us grow our company, and I agreed," he said. "The time that we talked, I mean, he really just touched our hearts."

But the same game that brought the two together would be the downfall of their personal and professional relationship.

While Mauermann was caring for his son, deputies said Murphy was siphoning off Mauermann's Arctic Air Conditioning business accounts to pay for youth baseball equipment, travel teams and upkeep of the Lantana baseball fields. In the end, he took more than $100,000 from his former friend, according to an arrest report

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office arrested Murphy on July 31.

It all started in spring 2011, when Mauermann met Murphy while the two were involved with their sons' youth baseball teams in Lantana. Mauermann said Murphy was a family guy who had recently moved to South Florida from Pennsylvania. He was personable, kind and easy to get along with, Mauermann said.

Murphy was also the president of the Lantana Athletic Association, a now-defunct nonprofit that maintained the Lantana baseball fields and ran youth leagues. When Murphy told Mauermann he was looking for work, Mauermann wanted the family man on his team.

More than a year later, things took a dramatic turn in September 2012 turn when Mauermann's son, Cody, 18, got into a car accident near Orlando. Mauermann said his son was clinging to life.

A distraught Mauermann moved to Orlando and left his business in the hands of Murphy. It was only when he returned nine months later that he suspected his friend had taken money from him.

Other employees told him while he was away, Murphy spent his time at the ball park and traveling across Florida with his son's travel team.

"Our family was completely upside down," Mauermann said. "I was sad, I was depressed. I didn't know what to think."

Murphy's attorney, Andrew Strecker, said his client is pleading not guilty to the charges. He added that once more information comes out in court Murphy will be exonerated.

While Mauermann was away, Murphy was in charge of finances. The company's secretary, Raffaela Liuzzo-Mazzocchi, said Murphy would tell her that they had to turn down projects because Mauermann was taking money out of the accounts.

"I never had any access to any bank accounts, so I never knew what was going in," Liuzzo-Mazzocchi said. "I only had simple tabulations in my mind. But the numbers didn't add up. I would question, where's the money going?"

Liuzzo-Mazzocchi had gotten the job just a week before Mauermann's son's accident. She also worked with Murphy as a board member of the Lantana Athletic Association. She believed Murphy when he told her it was Mauermann who was emptying the bank account.

But Mauermann said while he was in Orlando, he opted to not take a paycheck. He told Murphy it wouldn't be fair and that he would live off his savings.

He didn't suspect anything either, he said. His first red flag came when Liuzzo-Mazzocchi told him she was upset in spring 2013 about him spending money meant to go toward the business.

"I confronted him because everybody in the office had ill feelings," she said. "They were hurt and upset because they had given so much."

Mauermann was stunned. He wasn't taking out money, he told Liuzzo-Mazzocchi, and he would go down to the bank and prove it.

Together the two looked at the businesses financial records, which showed thousands of dollars and ATM withdrawals from Lantana and Lake Worth — not Orlando.

What was most shocking, however, was more than the amount — it was the purchases, Mauermann said: new baseball uniforms, equipment, expensive baseball sunglasses, sponsorships for a travel team.

"He was living the dream," Mauermann said. "But he was living that dream off of my back."

There were also non-baseball expenditures, including trips to Publix, ATM withdrawals and personal checks.

Mauermann hounded Murphy to pay him back, saying he agreed to not involve law enforcement if Murphy could make good on what he owed. But soon the numbers were piling up.

Records show Murphy had taken money without Mauermann's permission as early as 2011 and took upwards of $120,000.

So he called deputies.

Murphy was formally charged with organized scheme to defraud, theft of over $100,000 and uttering a forged note. He was booked in the Palm Beach County Jail and was released on July 31.

Liuzzo-Mazzocchi said the Lantana Athletic Association voted him off their board before they disbanded in 2013. She said it was clear Murphy was a man obsessed with image and the desire to keep his kids playing ball.

"I do believe his best interests were always with the children," she said. "I think he got caught up in a situation with his personal finances and a life he wanted to live."

kjacobson@tribune.com, 561-243-6547 or Twitter @katejacobson

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