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Less than two years for swiping $1 million

Holli Dawn Coulman was executive assistant at Hewlett-Packard

Holli Dawn Coulman used company credit cards for personal use
Holli Dawn Coulman used company credit cards for personal use

Almost a year after pleading guilty, Holli Dawn Coulman, who was an executive assistant to a senior vice president at the Rancho Bernardo operations of Hewlett-Packard, today (August 24) was sentenced to 21 months in prison for embezzling almost $1 million from the company. She has been ordered to pay $954,000 in restitution.

Because of her lofty position at the company, she was provided American Express credit cards that were to be used only for approved business expenses. She used them to spend more than $100,000 at La Costa, $43,000 at Pebble Beach, airfare for trips to Hawaii and Europe, and various luxury purchases.

According to federal court records, she would intercept and delete emails inquiring about the expenditures. She would also fabricate receipts and invoices to cover her tracks.

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Holli Dawn Coulman used company credit cards for personal use
Holli Dawn Coulman used company credit cards for personal use

Almost a year after pleading guilty, Holli Dawn Coulman, who was an executive assistant to a senior vice president at the Rancho Bernardo operations of Hewlett-Packard, today (August 24) was sentenced to 21 months in prison for embezzling almost $1 million from the company. She has been ordered to pay $954,000 in restitution.

Because of her lofty position at the company, she was provided American Express credit cards that were to be used only for approved business expenses. She used them to spend more than $100,000 at La Costa, $43,000 at Pebble Beach, airfare for trips to Hawaii and Europe, and various luxury purchases.

According to federal court records, she would intercept and delete emails inquiring about the expenditures. She would also fabricate receipts and invoices to cover her tracks.

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Comments
62

No street criminal could ever take down a sum like that. But an armed robbery of, say, $1000 could get a sentence of more like 21 years than she got.

I'd also guess that if she hadn't gotten greedy, she could have covered up her misuse of the credit cards for many years, and have eventually have retired from H-P with a nice pension and health care. It isn't hard to hide smaller abuses of privileges if the perp is smart. I'd guess she wasn't smart enough to hide the stuff long enough for it to be forgotten.

But you wonder, given the numbers of these embezzlers who rip off $ millions and get away with it for years, how many others are operating undetected. Oh, and how many will remain undetected if they keep their greed in some sort of check.

Aug. 24, 2015

Kind of like the guy who turned in an expense account with a ball cap listed. The boss rejected it so the guy turns in a new expense account with no ball cap but the same amount. The boss asks him about it and he replies that the ball cap is in there he just has to find it.

Aug. 25, 2015

AlexClarke: I recall a story I heard about a gruff manager at a company I once worked for. A bunch of salesmen reported to him. He called an emergency meeting.

He stated "Joe Smith, president of the Acme Advertising Agency, weights 950 pounds. How do I know? Because I am looking at your expense accounts, and I notice three of you guys treated him to lunch last Wednesday. Get smart." Then the meeting was over. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Visduh: You are so right. If a guy knocks over a gas station to get 20 bucks, he will go to prison for several years. If somebody on Wall Street steals $20 million, he will get off completely. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

See white collar crime does pay!

Aug. 25, 2015

AlexClarke: Unfortunately, it does. A French philosopher, whose name escapes me, noted that all big companies started with a fraud. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Being familiar with this case/person, this is a mockery of justice from the get-go. This woman could've no more obsconded with almost 1M from HP and any suggestion to the contrary is ludicrous! Given her many upward promotions and stellar performance reviews while working for HP for 14 years (1999-2012), she became an EA at the senior and executive VP levels. Her duties here included being in charge of large expensive corporate/client functions at resorts such as LaCosta, Pebble Beach, and The Masters in Augusta amongst others. She also purchased client gifts, often had to "look the other way" with unscrupulous practices for "certain clients, and sat amidst the middle of money streams as a signatory. As such, this woman was ensconced in a financial chain-of-command with required multiple signatories and within a corporate financial hierarchy whose fiscal inquisitions would have certainly extended beyond mere email checks/responses, especially to the tune of 1M. This is a case where an EA who was caught in the middle of a corporate financial process ended up taking the fall for financial wrongdoing by culpable upper echelons who had left the company and gotten away unfettered. And most importantly, whom the FBI refused to investigate as part of defense evidence provided to them in what should have been a much larger case.

When raided in her home by the FBI 2 years after she left HP and was then as suddenly blamed for an alleged crime and a 954K theft via a plea bargain with a 2-3 year incarceration, this woman was forced to plead guilty to sustain a lesser charge, despite the fact that she was innocent. Forced to plead guilty to avoid the case going to trial with a much longer 5-10 year sentence. In evidence, this woman provided the FBI with all personnel who were involved in the corporate functions that she set up as well as correlating the different accounting spreadsheets that showed financial accountability for all gifts and functions that the FBI claimed were embezzled. This is further corraborated by the fact that after careful scrutiny of this woman's bank records, home belongings, and all possessions, the FBI DID NOT sieze any of this woman's personal assets, given they were all honorably purchased with her hard-earned money.

Beyond this, if this woman went to as many spa and resorts visits correlative with the trumped amounts the FBI claimed, she would have never been at work. This fact was also entered into defense evidence that showed no such leave debits and that the FBI also refused to investigate.

So where is the judicial and investigatory parity here on the part of the fed?? The prosecution pads their side but virtually ignores the defense??

They say the law is like a spider web. It ensnares the poor and the weak and is torn to shreds by the rich and the powerful. Nowhere is this statement better represented than with this case. And this woman's life will be forever challenged because of it.

Aug. 25, 2015

BlackWater: Are you her defense counsel, or close to her defense counsel? If she was covering up for other HP executives, why didn't she turn them in when the blame was shifted to her?

She didn't have to fall on her sword. Didn't the company and FBI have proof that she was deleting emails inquiring about the seemingly injudicious use of her credit card? If she was doing that to cover up for others, why didn't she bring that up at trial? Or did she? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Hi Don. No defense counsel or close to it. Just a friend who knows this person, has read the case file, and who knows many extant aspects of the defense of this case. The point is that she was only one small segment of a corporate financial process and hierarchy, a process that certainly included multiple signatories and approvals beyond just her and emails. A process that would have required physical checkups on unanswered questions or suspect emails that didn't conform to the normal course of events and long-established knowledge and patterns of corporate spending. Been there, done that, and seen it in the large corp's I have worked for. As far as falling on the sword for others, well when you're employed, have been at a place for 14 years, have garnered a respectable position, and need your job, making waves and becoming a whistleblower is really not the place you want to be. As far as going to trial, well not many amongst us can afford anywhere between the 250-500K in trial legal fees nor remotely take the chance of incurring a minimum 5-10 year sentence via trial versus opting out via a lesser 1-3 year plea deal. So the crime is the same in either arena but you get less time for keeping it out of the overly bogged down trial system. Now that's fair isn't it?? So while you make your plea deal voluntarily, it is still made under the overwhelming duress of both the cost and potential maximum incarceration of a trial. As Visduh states, corporate chicanery happens all the time and folks in lower echelon positions who are unaware of the legal risk they incur under the very nature of their financial positions are often the ones that become ensnared in the web. Bottom line, many other names were provided here and were simply not investigated for whatever reason. And the damages unfairly and exorbitantly grew to the stated magnitude that required incarceration versus probation for a what should have been a much lesser amount. Nuf said.

Aug. 25, 2015

BlackWater: If what you say is true, law enforcement was remiss in not pursuing all the wrongdoers. As a friend of the wrongdoer, you do have to admit you have a dog in this hunt.

I am skeptical because I hear stories like this all the time.Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

The fed was remiss in not pursuing all the wrongdoers?? You're right, they were and they typically are. That's the point!!! Yet sadly, it happens all the time and the wrong people are incarcerated. Nothing but a CF by overzealous prosecutors who are looking to make a name for themselves and pad their cv's so they can get out of the gov and into private practice. I'm not interested in your skepticism nor the stories that you hear. Myself having been involved in over 250 court cases over 30 years, the simple truth is that there is always much more to the story than what you read on a trumped up FBI press release.

Aug. 25, 2015

BlackWater: The judge scolded her, said she had done something quite seriously wrong, then gave her a light sentence. That is interesting.

I don't disagree that the people in high places do not get nailed and the underlings do. I have been pounding the table on that for decades, and it has been going on for centuries. But was that true in this case? Did the company permit employees to use their company credit cards for private purposes? Some companies do, particularly American Express cards, which she used. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Don,

Right on about the underlings. Happens all the time. The judge only scolded her based on a trumped up plea bargain that she had to plea to as guilty under the duress/max sentence/cost of a pending trial. The things cited in the FBI press release, the LaCosta/PB resorts, airfare, clothing, and Apple stuff, etc. were actually all legitimate business affair expenses that she coordinated for the company and not on herself. She submitted the accounting spreadsheets and names of other employees who were at said functions and who the various items were purchased for as defense evidence but they were flatly ignored and key spreadsheet tabs that showed payment were deleted. She was part of an internal process that required her to often look the other way and given her name was on the transactions as one of the signatories, she was nailed for everything as other upper echelons bailed and left her holding the bag. And again, although their names were provided, they were purposely not investigated.

And you're exactly right and hit the antithetical nail on the head - the judge "scolds" her but then delivered a light sentence. Reason being because of the many solid objections that the defense raised regarding the prosecution flatly ignoring evidence provided of others that were directly complicit in the overall financial mismanagement that they stuck her alone for. So despite the guilty plea made under the aforementioned duress and the judges "scolding" for show, the judge could not ignore said solid and very relevant defense objections, knew she was truly not guilty/soley complicit, and gave her the lightest sentence possible while maintaining some level of federal legal decorum. The prosecution was actually going for 4+ years so the judges sentence was actually a direct slap in their face to clean up their act and exert investigatory parity hence and across the board. Unfortunately, this womans life will be forever damaged as a result of their intentional oversight.

Aug. 26, 2015

BlackWater: I still do not understand why she did not fight. Her life will never be the same. She should have told the company she was letting it all hang out and see what it did. I just can't buy that she fell on her sword to protect people who she knew were double-crossing her. If the evidence on her side was that compelling, was it not presented to the court? If not, why not? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 26, 2015

Don: You're right, her life will never be the same. The reason that she did not fight it was because the fight became clearly futile and lopsided. She was raided and charged 2 years hence with who knows what had transpired since then, upper echelons had left, she didn't have the money to take it to trial nor wouldn't take the slightest chance at a minimum 5-10 year trial sentence, and agreed to a lesser plea deal of 2-3 years with likely less time.

Prior to being charged under the plea, she offered and provided copious evidence of others in her approval chain which was flatly refused and who were never questioned as well as her last SVP who apparently was questioned but conveniently couldn't recall anything, not even the stellar performance reviews she had bequeathed on the defendant. Further one of the defendants key SVP whom she worked for from 1999-2007 and who would attest to her innocence actually offered to be deposed by the prosecution during the presentence investigation and they again flatly refused his offer!!! Under those seeming witch-hunt conditions, which deal would you have taken?? She was advised under the clear investigatory disparity to take the plea deal as it was "the best deal she was going to get". She basically had zero choice in the matter.

The evidence was presented to the judge as part of her counsel's copious objections just prior to and during the 24 Aug sentencing hearing but over a year after she was basically ramrodded to "voluntarily accept" the guilty plea deal.

Aug. 26, 2015

BlackWater: It seems to me that if the judge was sympathetic, realizing that she was being made a scapegoat by the fellow employees whom she aided in their own swindles, the judge would have given her probation. Or found her not guilty. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2015

Don: The judge couldn't find her not guilty because she pled guilty under a plea over a year ago based on the aforementioned reasons. This was not a trial but a sentencing hearing and in federal court, both prosecutorial and defense evidence is submitted to the judge to assist him in passing sentence. No probation here either given the 954K damages. But I'd like to make something clear here. As you mention above, I never said that she aided any fellow employees in their own swindles or that there was any active scapegoating by HP against her. What I've said and caveated from the beginning is that folks left and the names of her other colleagues in her financial approval chain as well as accounting spreadsheets which accounted for the money spent on the various corporate functions she coordinated were provided as defense evidence and were not apparently investigated or considered pre-sentence, hence the defense objections that are part of the case file. The judge had to pass sentence based on the guilty plea and the amount embezzled but did apparently take the copious defense objections into account given he passed a "light" sentence. As you said, that's interesting.

Aug. 27, 2015

BlackWater: How about the competence of her counsel? Why didn't he or she aggressively pursue this case? Did her lawyer recommend that she plead guilty? Did that lawyer look at the evidence you say the prosecution wouldn't look at? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

Don: Counsel extremely competent and well known. He did suggest that she plead given there was bias on the part of the fed as to what they would include, consider, and not investigate. As mentioned, the cost of going to trial was significant as was the concern of a much longer long minimum trial sentence. He did look at the evidence that the prosecution ignored and said evidence was submitted as objections at sentencing.

Aug. 28, 2015

I caveat the following "She was part of an internal process that required her to often look the other way and given her name was on the transactions as one of the signatories, she was nailed for everything as other upper echelons bailed and left her holding the bag" to "She was part of an internal process that required her to often look the other way and given her name was on the transactions as one of the signatories, she was nailed by the prosecution for everything as other echelons had left.

I caveat the following: "Reason being because of the many solid objections that the defense raised regarding the prosecution flatly ignoring evidence provided of others that were directly complicit in the overall financial mismanagement that they stuck her alone for" to "Reason being because of the many solid objections that the defense raised regarding the prosecution flatly ignoring evidence provided of others in the financial process that the prosecution stuck her alone for".

Aug. 27, 2015

BlackWater: It is hard for me to reply to this post because you have read the court record. I have not. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

Don, Additionally, yes, she was afforded the ability to use the company cards to purchase personal items and did so at the recommendation of her superiors. Items which she reimbursed the company for and provided the cradle-to-grave accounting spreadsheets (which she saved btw) to the prosecution and the judge proving said personal reimbursement. Despite that, the prosecution continued to push those purchases as illegitimate and unauthorized at the hearing and the judge seeng the evidence provided flatly threw their ill-founded accusations out and told them to sit down!!! Talk about arrogant and autonomous government overreach.

Aug. 26, 2015

BlackWater: Did anyone from Hewlett Packard testify, and if so, on whose behalf? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 26, 2015

Blackwater, I would encourage you to have your friend contact some investigative reporters and turn over the spreadsheets and other evidence she has.

Aug. 26, 2015

Wabbitsd: Trouble is, investigative reporters are not given as much time to develop a story these days as they once were. Economic reality. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

A very interesting story indeed, and one that sounds credible. That it involved H-P makes it even more likely, given the mismanagement that plagued that corporation for years.

Thirty-plus years ago I had a boss who maintained a lifestyle that his salary simply could not provide. He had no financial assets, no rich parents, and no other sources of outside income. His source was a supplier with whom he had a long term relationship. Ahh, but that supplier was the head of a subsidiary of a publicly-traded corporation. How, I still wonder, did that guy manage to hide those kickbacks from the auditors? Well, some simple-minded methods could have been including the bribe-taker in his own vacation trips to luxury resorts, and calling it entertainment or incentives, picking up the car lease payments, etc. But I really doubt that he paid the kickbacks out of his own pocket. And if he made gifts, were they reported on a Form 1099? Again, I doubt it. So, it took some creative accounting to hide the outgo on the financials and keep the auditors from challenging it. Yet it went on before I got into the position and went on for a few years after I left without ever being challenged. So, the financial management had to be complicit in the scheme.

Aug. 25, 2015

Visduh: I have seen similar cases as a journalist. Is the management complacent, or incompetent? I agree that HP's management should be challenged on this -- and on much bigger things, like how did that company go to pieces as fast as it did? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

As a caveat to the statement in my aforementioned email "This is a case where an EA who was caught in the middle of a corporate financial process ended up taking the fall for financial wrongdoing by culpable upper echelons who had left the company and gotten away unfettered.", I change the statement to "This appears to be a case....."

Aug. 27, 2015

BlackWater: That is an important hedge. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

As a caveat/correction to the statement in my aforementioned email "She also purchased client gifts, often had to "look the other way" with unscrupulous practices for "certain clients, and sat amidst the middle of money streams as a signatory", I change the statement as follows "She also purchased client gifts, knew of specific practices for certain clients, and sat amidst the middle of money streams as a signatory".

Aug. 30, 2015

Bob Hudson: Wonderful lines. Try this:

The law doth punish man or woman; Who steals a goose from off the common; But lets the greater felon loose; Who steals the common from the goose.

Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Does Carly figure into this?

Aug. 25, 2015

Twister: It wasn't why HP dropped her. It was concerned about bigger things. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Fiorina got shoved out because she sucked at her job. She refused to give division heads the operating authority they needed, revenue dropped precipitously, HP started losing market share to IBM and Dell even after an initial gain after the merger with Compaq and the stock tanked, losing about half of it's value from the time she took over. Dick Hackborn had doubts about her from the very start and finally was able to get the rest of the board to give her the sack.

Aug. 26, 2015

danfogel: There was also the spying scandal. Fiorina was spying on her board members to find if anyone was leaking anything to the press during the era of big controversy. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2015

Message received, crime pays and pays rather well . . .

Aug. 25, 2015

Tom Applegate: That is all too often the case. Wall Street is the classic example. Big names trade on inside information. Generally, it's the small fry that get caught on insider trading, although we have seen some encouraging cases against big fry.

High frequency traders trade on inside information that other investors cannot get all the time. The SEC and Justice Department know it. Nothing happens. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

Scott St. Joseph: That can be arranged. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 25, 2015

One needs a box-score to untangle this web. BW, if you really want to make those points stick, make a list of assertions, counter-assertions, and the evidence supporting each with references to sources--preferably links.

Aug. 26, 2015

Twister: To do all that work, one deserves the pay of a lawyer. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2015

I cain't evun spel liaryer, but my regular fee is $500/hr; for shit work like that, it's $1,500.

Tw

Aug. 27, 2015

Twister: I would not be surprised if there are lawyers charging $1500 an hour. If there aren't now, there will be. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

Twister: Her lawyer already did just that. They were submitted as objections to the way the case was investigated.

Aug. 27, 2015

Well, let the impassioned wronged make them public.

Tw

Aug. 27, 2015

Twister: Every human on earth at one time or another is an impassioned wronged. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

BlackWater: I'm lost. Whose lawyer? Coulman's or Fiorina's? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

Ms. Coulman's

Aug. 28, 2015

BlackWater: What happened to those objections? Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

They are part of the case file.

Aug. 28, 2015

Re: BlackWater Aug. 27, 2015 @ 2:28 p.m.

Twister: Her lawyer already did just that. They were submitted as objections to the way the case was investigated.

BW:

May be, but I don't have 'em. To make a case about a case, one must provide more than the end argument to the contrary; one must support counterclaims with readily-available references to sources and evidence. Please bear in mind that in this case I may want to cheer for the underdog, but howling alone isn't enough to get me to howl too. Getting justice out of the injustice system is a long, hard, tortuous road--unfortunately. Especially when I don't have a dog in this particular fight.

Tw

Aug. 28, 2015

Twister: It could be an intriguing case for an enterprising journalist to pursue. However, a major risk would be that the journalist would launch his probe with a bias that she was not guilty. If the journalist finds that she was guilty and justice had triumphed, the story that took hundreds of hours goes in the wastepaper basket. So there could be prejudgment and bias on both sides. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2015

Please see below. Please read previous post very carefully. I suspect that BW is not a journalist.

Best, Tw

Aug. 28, 2015

Twister: I think BlackWater is a lawyer -- but not one that represented Coulman. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 29, 2015

Tw: Completely understand. Justice is painfully slow. As far as sources and evidence…you mean like subpoenaed accounting speadsheets that show completed payments, other approver names within the corporate financial accounting system, things like this that were blatantly not investigated by the fed?? They are part of the case file and Ms. Coulman has copies as well.

Aug. 28, 2015

BlackWater: One problem that often comes up is that the judge does not understand the technicalities presented in the spread sheets. The prosecutor may not have understood them well enough, too. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 29, 2015

Don: The prosecutors knew what they were doing in that they intentionally biased their presentation (by deleting key spreadsheet tabs and others) to maximize the defendants damages because thats what they do…exacerbate their case/position. But to disparagely do so while putting someone's very life and existence on the federal chopping block as they have is reprehensible and goes well beyond both legal ethics and moral code. I for one am appalled at their audacity.

Aug. 29, 2015

No, BW, I mean stating a single point. Bringing evidence to refute it. Such as:

  1. One specific thing that was "blatantly not investigated."

    a. Demonstrate that thing's relevance to the case.

    b. Show that counter-assertions are invalid.

Then, move on to the next item--no tangled verbiage--do the same thing, then move through all of them one at a time. Specifics and details--no vague generalities. Intellectual discipline.

Tw

Aug. 28, 2015

Twister: I think BlackWater should do exactly as you suggest. He should explain in detail some of the things that were not investigated. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 29, 2015

Twister: I more than understand the process. It's easy to discuss semantics here on the Reader. The overarching issue is what forum is really most appropriate to convey such examinations and analysis. Invesitigative reporting or a book. We're opting for a book. And itsa gonna be a whammy!!!

Aug. 29, 2015

BlackWater: Have you looked into how many new books come out each year? It's a staggering figure. It should be enough to deter budding authors but apparently isn't. This is another case in which I could look it up, but refuse to do so. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 30, 2015

"Appropriate?" In my book, any statement is bullshit that isn't backed up--in no matter what forum it is made. Information, not rhetoric. Analysis is fine, but only when the factual foundations for the analysis are up front.

While I'll reserve judgment on this particular case, the vacuum isn't making it look good. Until relevant and comprehensive information accompanies the statements, I'm done with this. Too bad--I really wanted to know the basis for why the underdog was right and the "system" was wrong . . .

Aug. 31, 2015

Twister: So you are forfeiting the chance to write the book on this and leaving the field to BlackWater? Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 1, 2015

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