Former Clyde’s Restaurant Group corporate controller Nancy Preston pleaded guilty yesterday to the federal charge of mail fraud for embezzling nearly $650,000 from the company over the course of a decade. The 55-year-old Vienna resident worked for the restaurant group for nearly 30 years, and used the organization’s money to fund personal credit cards and expenses.
“She was like our corporate watchdog, and she ended up treating Clyde’s like a personal ATM,” says CFO Jeff Owens, who adds that it has been emotionally difficult for the close-knit restaurant group to bounce back from the betrayal. “As the controller, she oversaw all the money handling and financial reporting aspects of the company. . . . She was in the circle of trust.”
While Clyde’s Restaurant Group oversees seven Clyde’s locations—as well as offshoot ventures like the Hamilton and 1789 Restaurant—Owens says there are only about a dozen employees in the corporate headquarters. Even in an intimate group, Preston’s actions went unnoticed until about a year ago. Owens says Preston personally designed many of the group’s control procedures and knew how to “work the system” to her advantage.
Clyde’s expects near complete financial restitution between insurance and the money Preston agreed to sign over, including $258,000 worth of stock awards and options and nearly $400,000 in forfeiture. Her position has been filled by the previous controller, Christine Lobban, who turned over her role to Preston to focus on her family. Still, even with Preston’s sentencing scheduled for December—she faces up to 20 years in prison—the Clyde’s folks are still learning from their mistakes.
“The advice I’d give is really two simple things,” says Owen. “The number one is the mail: Make sure there are a lot of people involved in opening and sorting and distributing. The other is requiring original invoices as well as Xerox copies. Those are the two things that go us in trouble [with Preston]. As the saying goes, ‘Trust, but verify.’”