Former Hammer Museum employee steals thousands, signs plea agreement
February 11, 2021
A former Hammer Museum employee admitted to stealing $11, 500 from the museum over a period of four months last winter according to a plea agreement filed in Alaska District Court on Feb. 8.
Former employee Riyan Stossel was charged with wire fraud, a felony offense. The charge will be dismissed if Stossel completes a pretrial diversion program, which includes 40 hours of community service and pays back the money he stole.
Museum board treasurer Michael Marks told the CVN that a special agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation secured a confession from Stossel this summer. Stossel took more than 100 deductions between December 2019 through March 31, 2020 in amounts as low as $50 to as high as $300, Marks said.
Because the transactions occurred via PayPal and crossed state lines, the FBI got involved, Marks said.
Stossel “repeatedly made material misrepresentations, to withdraw funds from the Museum’s bank account through the Museum’s PayPal account, in which Stossel then deposited into the Pay Pal accounts of (he) and another individual,” according to the plea agreement.
Marks said the 2019 summer museum season ended with record attendance numbers. He said he hadn’t done any accounting for the museum during the winter, and didn’t look at the books until April.
“It wasn’t until April 1 that I decided to go back to work for the Hammer Museum and started opening up the bank statements,” Marks said. “I opened them up and there was PayPal deductions, approximately 114 deductions and (the former employee’s) name appeared on approximately $10,000 dollars of those deductions.”
Marks said that when he and museum founder Dave Pahl notified First National Bank Alaska staff on April 1 of the suspicious account activity, money was withdrawn “right in front of our noses as the bank person was watching the screen. Immediately, she put a hold on the account and that stopped the withdrawals.”
Marks said about one third of their 2019 summer income was stolen. PayPal reimbursed the museum $6,000, an amount that had been stolen within 60 days of the company being notified, Marks said of the company’s policy.
“We’re struggling to get by to see what’s going to happen next season,” Marks said. “It’s a very sad story. As you can imagine, it’s not easy being a victim of a crime. It’s been a very depressing couple of months knowing someone who was your ex-employee had violated a small seasonal museum which doesn’t make much money at all.”
Stossel declined to comment.