King Con

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But according to Russell, his bosses had qualms about him -- not about his honesty, but about his sexual preference. In a rambling, longhand response to a civil suit the company filed against him, Russell wrote that he felt pressured to lie to his bosses by claiming that he was flying to Las Vegas to marry a woman who worked for a high-powered law firm. He also alleged that NAMM officials urged him to bring his new bride to the company picnic.

The NAMM official denies that the company discrinimates against gays. He also says that it was Russell who initiated the tale about his wife -- to explain that it was she who bought the Mercedes Benzes.

But Russell never had to produce a woman. In May 1996, an official with Texas Commerce Bank notified NAMM that Russell had applied to TCB for a loan. During the credit check, the loan officer noticed alarming irregularities in a bank account that Russell shared with Morris. Since March, Russell had deposited more than $750,000.

Asked recently about the charges of embezzlement, Russell readily admitted to stealing the money. But he adamantly maintained that Morris was unaware of his actions. According to Russell, after taking over as CFO, he discovered a large number of checks that NAMM had failed to deposit. He deposited the checks in the company account, but never entered them into the company books. Then he wrote checks to Morris from the company account and deposited them into their joint account. To make the checks look legitimate, Russell made them payable to P.C. Morris, CPA; P. Morris, CPA; or Dr. Morris, CP.

There's likely some truth to Russell's version of events, but investigators say the real explanation is a bit more complicated. Though the money was indeed withdrawn from NAMM accounts, NAMM officials never even knew those accounts existed.

When Russell was hired in January, he was not a signatory to any of NAMM's accounts. But apparently he soon rectified that situation. In the documents filed in the civil suit against Russell, NAMM contends that shortly after he was hired, Russell asked a secretary to make copies for him. She got up to do it -- and on her desk she left the signature stamp for the NAMM accounts. When she returned, the stamp was gone.

Investigators believe that Russell stole the stamp, but not because he wanted to use it. Instead, when NAMM was forced to get another one, he had his name included on it. After he became an account signatory, he opened new accounts, into which he deposited uncashed company checks and transferred money from other accounts. Then he wrote checks payable to Morris from the new accounts.

Texas Commerce Bank contacted NAMM on May 13. That morning, when Russell arrived at work, his boss said that they needed to talk. Russell quickly explained that he was busy just then, and the two men agreed to meet after lunch.

Russell somehow managed to steal his boss's briefcase, which contained documents concerning the checks scam. He then went to lunch and never returned.

When Russell failed to show up for his one o'clock appointment, NAMM officials asked Doug Adams if he'd seen or heard from his friend. Adams says he had no idea what was happening, but that late that afternoon Russell called and asked whether anything was going on in the office. Adams told Russell he hadn't noticed anything -- which was true. Those who knew about the embezzlement were playing it close to the vest.

During the call, Adams detected the sounds of an ATM in the background. "I could hear the voice on the speaker say he was trying to withdraw too much money," says Adams, "that he would have to come inside to process that amount."

Adams asked about the ATM, and noted that Russell had missed the meeting with his boss. Russell responded that he needed cash because he was going to Las Vegas, and added that he wouldn't be coming back to work, ever. He explained that the company had found out that he'd lied about working at Prudential, but didn't bother to mention the stolen money. Even so, Russell told Adams enough for Adams to realize that he, too, would soon be out of a job. Sure enough, NAMM officials remembered the Prudential connection, and the next day Adams was fired.

From the cellular phone in his car, Russell called to tell NAMM officials that his attorney would contact them. NAMM alerted the major fraud division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office. It was a bad break for Russell. "Companies don't want their stockholders to know when they put a guy like Russell in a position to steal their money," explains assistant D.A. Jennings. "Steve had been counting on that. He had told friends that he had done this to other companies and that they hadn't prosecuted."

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Steve McVicker