|Collier County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Stephen Macera, left, accepts the 2014 Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award from U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida A. Lee Bentley III at a ceremony June 5.|
It started with a meeting in 2012 about a suspected theft of millions of dollars from a Naples luxury golf resort community and ended in June 2015 with a Collier County Sheriff’s Office sergeant receiving a prestigious award.
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida A. Lee Bentley III named CCSO Sgt. Stephen Macera as 2014 Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for the work he performed uncovering a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme by a former financial executive of The Vineyards.
Sgt. Macera, who supervises the Economic Crimes Section, was recognized at an awards ceremony in Fort Myers on June 5. U.S. Secret Service Special Agent James Mundo was also recognized as 2014 Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for his work in this investigation.
The annual award recognizes members of federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies for their extraordinary contribution to the people of the United States and to the mission of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida.
The meeting that helped Sgt. Macera uncover the case occurred Dec. 26, 2012. Officials with Vineyards Development Corp. (VDC), which operates The Vineyards community, presented him with financial documents they claimed showed former Vineyards controller Alfred W. Lenz had stolen more than $2 million.
Sgt. Macera created subpoenas for Vineyards bank statements and copies of back checks. For the next two years, Sgt. Macera and Special Agent Mundo devoted countless hours tediously dissecting complex financial documents and interviewing witnesses. The investigation ultimately took them to Michigan, where they arrested Lenz in early 2014.
Lenz was employed as the Vineyards controller from March 31, 2005, to April 27, 2013. Through their investigation, Sgt. Macera and Special Agent Mundo unraveled an embezzlement scheme that revealed Lenz stole nearly $2.4 million from Jan. 11, 2007, until Dec. 9, 2009, and used the money to buy real estate and for other expenses. Lenz used his position to hide 87 $24,000 check payments, totaling $2,088,000 to an account he controlled. He made false entries into the VDC’s books and concealed the true nature of the check payments.
The investigation also found Lenz made seven wire transfers totaling $292,465.11 to be sent from the VDC’s bank account to a bank account that he controlled. Lenz used a company – Vintners Cellar of Naples LLC, of which he was manager and chairman – formed in November 2001 and dissolved in September 2011 to transfer the funds from the VDC.
In addition, Sgt. Macera and Special Agent Mundo identified assets in Michigan worthy of forfeiture, including his residence in Montague, Mich., that was purchased with more than $200,000 stolen from the VDC. The assets also included a Steinway grand piano, Maple Leaf gold coins, a motor home, and a retirement account that they traced to the proceeds of the embezzlement scheme.
On Feb. 13, 2014, Sgt. Macera and Special Agent Mundo, along with the Michigan State Police and the Montague Police Department, located Lenz at his home in Michigan. He was arrested on a federal warrant and taken into custody without incident.
On June 11, 2014, Lenz, 68, pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and later sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell also ordered Lenz to forfeit his interest in his Montague house, and the contents of the retirement account. In addition, the court ordered Lenz to pay $2,380,465.11 in restitution to the VDC and imposed a forfeiture money judgment in that amount.