Wednesday, August 27, 2014

TOP STORY >> When firm's comptroller steals $1.1M

Leader editor

AGL Corp., the small Jacksonville manufacturer of laser equipment used for construction around the world, had been struggling for years. The company had trouble making a profit. There were layoffs and rumors about the plant shutting down.

The number of workers dropped to about 25. Those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs got no raises or Christmas bonuses.

China makes laser equipment cheaper, but AGL’s Jacksonville line is superior.

Management blamed many of its problems on the recession as construction plummeted around the world. 

Still, money was going out faster than the revenues AGL could generate. Management tried to stanch the losses, but it was difficult to keep costs under control.

Workers feared the 50-year-old plant would close. It took a while before management figured out a trusted employee was a big reason for its problems.

Almost two years ago, the plant manager realized AGL’s comptroller was stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to support a gambling habit and an extravagant lifestyle.

Last week in federal court in Little Rock, Regina Lynn Paff, the company’s former comptroller, pleaded guilty to wire fraud. She created more than 100 false payroll entries while she stole more than $1 million, paying herself phony expenses, commissions and other imaginary bills.

Paff, 53, stole about $250,000 a year for four years.

From October 2008 to September 2012, according to the charges, she stole $991,640, although AGL says the company lost an additional $168,000 from other unauthorized payments, bringing the company’s total losses to about $1.16 million.

The scheme was uncovered two years ago before she could cash a commission check for $27,117.50. The FBI discovered the wire fraud after Paff tried to transfer money from a California bank to Centennial Bank in Little Rock. 

Paff could have retired with $1 million if she hadn’t written that last check that finally caught up with her.

She faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,00 fine and five years probation.

She must also repay everything she stole. If she doesn’t, she could get the maximum sentence and leave prison when she’s an old woman. There’s no parole for federal prisoners.

AGL, or Automatic Grade Light, got its start in 1964 as the Blount-George Co. It set the standard for laser-guided construction around the world.

J.C. George and Glen Blount, who invented and patented the precision lasers, founded AGL in a small machine shop on Redmond Road 50 years ago, when they were still in their 20s. George was a young city engineer in Jacksonville and Blount later built subdivisions in Cabot.

Both founders passed away recently. George died last September at the age of 76 in Heber Springs. Blount, who passed away in Cabot in 2011 at the age of 79, was the father of actress Lisa Blount, who died in Little Rock in 2010. She was raised in Jacksonville.
After Paff’s arrest, AGL’s fortunes improved. The company started hiring again. It now has 35 employees. It’s making money and will remain in Jacksonville.

Lomanco, another local world-class manufacturer, still has its main plant in Jacksonville.   Lomanco makes quality rooftop turbines and other vents. They’re what you want on top of your home.

AGL is promising better oversight in its business office. Insurance should cover most of its losses.

Workers hope they’ll get raises soon and Christmas bonuses at the end of the year. They should since no one is gambling away their payroll anymore.