Accountant Admits Stealing $550,000 From Historic Steamship Operator
The top financial officer at Lake Michigan Carferry, the operator of the historic steamship SS Badger, has admitting to defrauding the company of at least $550,000 from 2007 to 2018.
Paul Piper, the ferry company's former financial controller, has admitted that he used the firm's checkbook to write checks to two of his side businesses and to himself. He forged signatures of the firm's owners in order to carry out the fraud, and he falsified his own personal tax returns in order to hide it.
Piper is the owner of an accounting practice and a coffee shop located in the same building. Using Carferry's remote accounting system, Piper was able to print unauthorized checks made out to himself, his coffee shop and his accounting business on his own printer.
According to prosecutors, Piper would then delete the name of his firm from the check-writing window in the electronic accounting system and would insert the name of various insurance companies instead. The charges would appear in the insurance expense column of the firm's general ledger. On other occasions, he would simply write himself a check for accounting services that were not performed. Over the course of 11 years, these fraudulent charges came to about $550,000.
Piper has pleaded guilty to bank fraud and filing a false tax return. The maximum sentence for the fraud charge is up to 30 years in prison, though alternatives include five years of supervised release and a fine equal to twice the loss. He has agreed to forfeit $550,000 for the fraud and will pay restitution of about $360,000 to the IRS.
The SS Badger is the largest car ferry on Lake Michigan and the only coal-fired ro/pax steamship still operating in the United States. SS Badger runs a commercial route between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin from late spring through the fall, serving passengers, cars and heavy trucks.