Clyde’s CFO Discusses Nancy Preston Sentencing

The restaurant group learns lessons after the former corporate controller pleads guilty to embezzling nearly $650,000.

Massive downtown eatery and music venue the Hamilton, a Clyde's Restaurant Group property. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

Former Clyde’s Restaurant

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.’”

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.