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A Time To Speak

. . . a time to break down . . .

Ecclesiastes 3:3b

Chapter Two

In which we learn something important about Win


My brother's story comes into this later, so I should just tell you about him now.

My mom called me on September 12th, 2009, crying, begging me to get on my knees and pray for Sam and his family right now. I told her I would put them on the prayer chain at our church as soon as she told me whatever the problem was, but she said no, not to do that. She was adamant—nobody could know what was going on with Sam except for us. Nobody. It would be too embarrassing. It took me twenty minutes to start getting the story out of her.

I knew, of course, that after Sam graduated from FCU, he got a job as an accountant with a construction company, Baker & Botts, there in the same little town of Earlton, South Carolina. Baker & Botts was a small company but it was growing fast, and they promised him that as the company grew, so would his pay.

At first it was just him as accountant/comptroller and one or two admins working under him, but in a couple of years they hired another accountant and more admins, and pretty soon he had a staff of five people answering to him. He had long hours and lots of responsibility. Baker & Botts was growing like crazy and he could barely keep up with all the work. He had more of everything—more work, more meetings, more responsibility, more deadlines to meet. He had more of everything except for money. Somehow that larger paycheck just didn't come through the way they kept saying it would.

Then Sam and Lisa had twins. It was a complicated delivery, and both the twins had to stay in the hospital for a few weeks. Baker & Botts had health insurance, but it wasn't very good. The bills began to pile up.

All of this, I knew about as it was happening. It was years before Sam told me what happened next.

Sam said that at first, it was really easy for him to take money from the company accounts. He needed money and they had it—lots of it. The first time he took money out, it was only three hundred dollars to keep his truck from being repossessed, and he put it back less than a week later. But later it grew into more, and he stopped worrying about paying back every single penny. Instead, he invented an outside company to perform "consulting services" for Baker & Botts. Construction was booming, and he was the only one who signed checks for the company, the only one who managed deposits and withdrawals. The firm owners looked at the bank accounts every day, of course, but they didn't have any idea where the money went from one day to the next. As long as he put it all back eventually, or else had receipts for it, they would never know or even care. And besides, he figured they owed it to him.

Later, he felt guilty. He knew it was wrong. He knew he shouldn't be doing it. But he never thought he'd get caught, until the day he arrived at work and found an outside auditor, hired by Mr. Botts, looking through all the hard copies of invoices and the computer files. The economy had started to fall apart, and Sam was having a harder and harder time explaining withdrawals and payments to an outside company that only had one employee-himself.

By the time Mom called me, Sam had already been arrested and let out on bail, and Lisa, who was pregnant again, was in hysterics. Sam's public defense lawyer had told him to get his personal affairs in order because he was probably going to jail, unless he could find fifteen thousand dollars' worth of receipts for legitimate business expenses. Mom told me Sam was being persecuted for his beliefs, since he was the only FCU graduate working at Baker & Botts, and therefore the only Christian. They had it in for him. They would persecute anyone who was a Christian. But once Clark and I heard the whole story, we knew better.

At the time, it seemed like a long, drawn out nightmare, but it all settled a lot faster than we had thought. Mom and Dad hired a really good attorney for Sam, and the new lawyer negotiated with the firm and made a great deal for him. Baker & Botts didn't want the bad publicity or the headaches and expense of a trial, so they agreed not to press charges if Sam would just pay back all the money, with interest, and gave them a written apology. Sam did even better. He agreed to show them all the accounts where he had withdrawn money (they hadn't found all of it yet) and added those withdrawals to the repayment amount. Then he wrote out an apology and signed a non-disclosure agreement, as they required. It was all over, except for paying the money back.

Sam, of course, didn't have that much money, so the family had to step up. Mom and Dad tapped into their retirement fund, but it still wasn't enough. In the end even Clark and I helped a little.

Obviously Sam couldn't find an accounting job in Earlton after that. He had all that education and training, and nowhere to use it, because everywhere he went in town, everybody knew all about him. He and Lisa sold their house and lived in an apartment for awhile, using the money from the sale to pay us back and to start repaying my parents. They squeaked by on odd jobs here and there, just barely making it.

Here's where it got really bad: Sam's church had seen his picture in the paper, and they made him go before the whole church congregation to publicly repent and be restored. I didn't understand that at all. He hadn't stolen from the church, and he was already repentant and making it right, as much as he could. What was the point? But the church said that his disgrace had reflected badly on their testimony in front of the community, and so he had to make it right with them too. Poor Lisa. She didn't need that humiliation on top of everything else.

After awhile it just seemed like there was no future for them in Earlton. Their church wasn't really supporting them, and the odd jobs dried up along with the economy. Sam got really depressed, and Lisa almost left him. Maybe she would have, if they hadn't already had kids together.

Then Dad ran into an old friend of his, who called another old friend, who worked at Cooper Farminson in a different state, and somehow he managed to get Sam in the door for an interview. Even with the bad economy, Sam's experience looked good on paper, and besides, he was the friend of a friend. It was the kind of thing you could get away with back when the web was a lot simpler and didn't have all the information on it that you can get today.

Sam didn't tell Cooper Farminson his history with Baker & Botts. He couldn't, under the terms of their agreement. But in his new job he has no access to any client's money, and he swears that he won't take any job in the future that involves him handling other people's accounts. It's part of his own personal repentance plan.

We're a pretty close-knit family. We know all about each other's churches, and pets, and neighbors. We can sit around for hours at Christmas or Thanksgiving, swapping family stories about Uncle Mack, who got my dad to stick beans up his nose when they were both kids, or the time Mom went grocery shopping with rollers in her hair because she'd gone to sleep in them the night before and forgot they were still in when she got up the next day. We know all about the schools our kids are going to and where we do our grocery shopping. We can talk about movies, or politics, or points of theology, like which Bible version is the most accurate modern translation. We can talk about all of these things, and more besides, all day long.

But we never, ever talk about what happened with Sam. Nobody at Sam's new church knows about it, or anybody here in Slippery Rock. We don't talk about it, in the family or out. It's like it never happened at all.