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Conroe Woman sentenced to 70 years in Prison for Elaborate Theft Scheme

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On Thursday, March 5, 2020 Judge Patty Maginnis in the 435th District Court sentenced Valeria Denise Johnson Tennon to 70 years in prison on a First Degree Aggregate Theft case and ordered that she pay approximately $1.3 million to the thirteen victims in the case. Ms. Tennon had previously pled guilty to the offense in a plea hearing conducted by the court on August 15, 2019. She received this sentence for an elaborate theft scheme that she engaged in beginning in November of 2015 and continuing until November of 2018.

Valeria Denise Johnson Tennon
Valeria Denise Johnson Tennon

In the course of the scheme, Ms. Tennon posed as an employee recruiter, claiming to have placed employees to work at actual companies. In reality, these supposed employees were relatives and associates of the defendant who did no work for the companies in question. In fact, these companies were largely unaware of Ms. Tennon’s existence or of the existence of the employees who were supposedly working for them. In order to get her relatives and associates paid, Ms. Tennon set them up on payroll with the payroll company victims in the case and sent in time cards and similar documents falsely representing hours worked. Induced by Ms. Tennon’s false representations and documentation, the payroll companies paid Ms. Tennon recruiting commissions, salary and also paid salaries to more than ten different additional people, including three of Ms. Tennon’s children. The State’s evidence also showed that Ms. Tennon controlled numerous accounts into which the fraud proceeds were paid and received payments in the form of kickbacks from various associates.

Ms. Tennon’s schemes were discovered during the summer of 2016, when one of the victim payroll companies reported to Detective Jason Roper of the Conroe Police Department that they had paid out over $300,000 in salary and commissions without any of their invoices being paid. Detective Roper began questioning individuals receiving money in the scheme as well as the companies for whom they were supposed to be working. In the course of his investigation, Detective Roper discovered numerous other payroll companies had been stolen from in a similar fashion. Given the growing complexity of the case, Detective Roper sought out the assistance of Erin Smith, an investigator and Certified Fraud Examiner with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. Detective Smith obtained thousands of pages of corporate records from the victim companies as well as thousands of pages of bank records related to the scheme. She traced the stolen money to various accounts held by Ms. Tennon and others to whom she directed the money. Ultimately, the Conroe Police Department obtained a search warrant for Ms. Tennon’s home and obtained a computer and various records that further explained and linked her to the scheme. The evidence showed that Ms. Tennon used a web service provider account to set up fraudulent email domains to make it appear to the payroll companies that they were communicating with clients, when in reality they were communicating with her. In all, the thirteen different victim payroll companies paid Ms. Tennon and her associates approximately $1.3 million in the form of commissions and salary.

During the punishment hearing Assistant District Attorneys Joel Daniels, Tamara Holland and Vanessa Windham presented evidence that the Defendant had previously been convicted of various theft related offenses and had continued to engage in seeking to defraud additional payroll companies even after her arrest in this case. Investigator Erin Smith testified at length, detailing the methods behind Ms. Tennon’s schemes and explaining extremely detailed charts and spreadsheets that she had prepared showing the flow of the $1.3 million. The State’s evidence also included testimony from a number of victims including the owner of one company who testified the defendant’s fraud almost put his company out of business. With her own testimony, Ms. Tennon sought to excuse her behavior, claiming that she suffered from depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder and that she had been the victim of sexual and physical abuse earlier in her life. Through a family physician, the defense presented evidence that the defendant was on various medications. The defendant also sought to distance herself from the conduct, asserting that some of the fraudulent representations had been made by other people.

The investigation of the case was a momentous undertaking by the Conroe Police Department and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office resulting in the thwarting and cessation of a very sophisticated theft scheme wreaking havoc for the targeted victims.

Assistant District Attorney Joel Daniels stated, “We are grateful for the judge’s decision to impose a lengthy prison sentence. Through her actions the defendant placed herself at the center of a maelstrom of falsehoods that did real harm to real companies and real people.”

District Attorney Brett Ligon shared, “Trust is ultimately the basis for our ability to do business, indeed the very basis of our economy. This punishment verdict sends a message that sophisticated criminals will not be allowed to sit anonymously at their computers and hide behind sham corporate structures while profiting from the type of egregious betrayals, abuses of trust and outright lies employed by this defendant in perpetrating her schemes.”

Source: Michael R. Holley, First Assistant District Attorney, Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office

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