Friday, October 31, 2014

Ottawan who embezzled to lose her plane

By The Herald Staff | 2/12/2010

Sandi Brandes is grounded — at least for 15 months.

The Ottawa airplane enthusiast and former chamber of commerce employee is expected to go to prison and forfeit her plane as part of a restitution settlement for embezzling from her Kansas City employer.

Sandi Brandes is grounded — at least for 15 months.

The Ottawa airplane enthusiast and former chamber of commerce employee is expected to go to prison and forfeit her plane as part of a restitution settlement for embezzling from her Kansas City employer.

Brandes, 42, Ottawa, was sentenced Thursday to 15 months in federal prison without parole for embezzling more than $77,000, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She also was ordered to give up an experimental aircraft constructed using the proceeds of her crime and pay an additional $15,000, the release said.

The former executive assistant to the president of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce pleaded guilty to bank fraud in December.

Brandes admitted that, between March 30, 2002, and Dec. 27, 2005, she wrote fraudulent checks to herself from her employer, Dr. J. Daniel Fleming’s dental practice in Kansas City, Mo., according to the news release.

Brandes also admitted to falsifying the signature on the checks, depositing the checks into her personal bank account, then destroying evidence and falsifying records to conceal her crime.

Some of the $77,552 Brandes stole from her employer was used to purchase and construct an experimental airplane from a kit, the release said.

The aircraft — an RV-9A fixed-wing, single-engine, two-seater airplane — was valued at up to $80,000.

Brandes and her husband, Matthew Brandes, were featured in a 2006 Ottawa Herald story about the couple’s efforts to build and fly an RV-9A plane.

According to Herald archives, the Brandes couple spent three years building the vessel before attempting to fly it that year. The couple constructed the plane in a home workshop before moving their work to Ottawa Municipal Airport.

“It causes some family strains for some builders,” Matthew Brandes said in the 2006 article. “We don’t have children, so it was a lot easier for us.”

The court ordered Sandi Brandes to transfer the title to her airplane to her former employer, Fleming, the U.S. Attorney’s Office news release said. Under the terms of Brandes’ plea agreement, if Fleming sells the plane for more than the amount of loss, Brandes is not entitled to the difference.

Brandes also was ordered to pay Fleming’s insurance company $15,000.

Tom Weigand, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce president, said Brandes began working at the chamber office in March 2006.

He said he met Brandes in 2004 or 2005 when she and her husband bought a house in Ottawa.

“I knew her as a neighbor,” he said. “We had an opening at the chamber and she was unemployed, so I gave her a start here.”

Brandes left the job in September 2007, Weigand said.

“It didn’t work out here, and we parted ways,” he said.

Weigand said his office was contacted in November to verify Brandes’ former employment.

“We saw the complaint and saw the charges,” he said. “It’s a sad situation. I think she’s a smarter woman than that.”

Weigand said he’s confident that during Brandes’ employment with the chamber there was no loss of money or bank fraud committed. 

“During her time here we had an audit and tightened up a few procedures,” he said.

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