A Sykesville man was convicted of embezzling more than $70,000 from Baldwin's Station in downtown Sykesville.
Russell Bryan Seifert, 40, of the 1800 block of Fallston Court, took an Alford plea Thursday to one count of theft-scheme between $10,000 and $100,000. By taking an Alford plea, Seifert was able to maintain his innocence while resolving a case, Seifer's attorney Bradley Bauhof said.
An Alford plea means a person maintains their innocence while admitting that the state could likely prove them guilty if the case was taken to trial.
Judge Lawrence Daniels sentenced Seifert to seven years, fully suspended, and three years of supervised probation, according to a news release from the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office.
As part of his probation, Seifert must complete an alcohol and drug evaluation, and cannot use the substances. He will also have to pay $5,000 to Baldwin's Station within 45 days and owes a restitution payment of more than $70,000 to Brethren Mutual Insurance Co., according to the release.
Bauhof said the state handled the case fairly, and the Alford plea allowed Seifert to reach a resolution in the case without agreeing that he was guilty.
Between April 2011 and April 2015, Seifert stole more than $73,000 from the restaurant through manipulating gift certificates and modifying guest checks, including inflating the tip, among other methods, according to the release.
Seifert was the general manager of Baldwin's Station for approximately five years, owner Stewart Dearie wrote in a victim's impact statement.
"I placed my trust in him completely, as I had with my previous manager, never imagining that within 5 years he would undo much of the foundation I had built, destroy my trust of people to the core, damage the reputation of the establishment I had poured my life into, and financially compromise the day-to-day operations of the restaurant," Dearie wrote in the statement.
Seifert would disappear and appeared to have a problem with drinking, Dearie said. But he wanted to help Seifert, he said.
"I have trust in people. And I trusted him," Dearie said.
It was that trust that allowed Seifert to steal from the restaurant, but it was also that trust in employees that caught him, Dearie and his wife Ridia Dearie said.
A floor manager saw an inconsistency with the accounting books and brought it to Stewart Dearie's attention. Stewart Dearie approached Seifert, and he couldn't explain why it was off. Seifert was let go from the restaurant, and the company started investigating, Stewart Dearie said.
Mike Dorsey, a former employee, created a code that would scan the restaurant's accounts for fraudulent accounting. They were also assisted by the floor manager who first noted the inconsistency and Dave Young, the current general manager, Stewart Dearie said.
The team of employees discovered that Seifert had been manipulating guest checks to inflate tips or add extra items. It was done internally, so the guest's copy of the check didn't reflect the change.
Because money was tight, Stewart Dearie started working longer hours and shortening employee hours to save money. He also became less trusting of his employees, he said.
In his victim impact statement, he wrote that he had health problems that resulted from the stress.
"This affected every aspect of my life – I began to work more hours to cut back on staff whenever possible. I began questioning my business acumen and I was constantly faced with the thought of failure. Again – it didn't make sense to me that such a successful restaurant did not have the financial figures to match. This ate away at me daily," he wrote in the statement.
The Dearies said they are grateful for the employees who helped discover Seifert's actions. Stewart Dearie said he is sharing his story so that it can be a cautionary tale.
"I just want people to know so it doesn't happen to someone else," he said.
But while the restaurant was hit with the hardship, the Dearies said they survived, and they are still a fixture in the community. They've been there for 20 years, and they are working to move on from the embezzlement, they said.
"We're still here. We survived," Ridia Dearie said.