An ex-accounting manager who worked at Weyerhaeuser’s Springfield., Ore., office has pleaded guilty to mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and tax evasion after stealing more than $4.5 million from the timber company by contracting with bogus vendors, including one in her mother’s name.
Susan L. Tranberg, 61, of Eugene, agreed to pay $4.6 million in restitution to the company and $807,033 to the Internal Revenue Service as part of the plea agreement announced in U.S. District Court in Eugene on Thursday.
She had worked for the Seattle-based company for 42 years, court records indicate.
“She went to great lengths to disguise her actions and mislead her colleagues,” Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said in a statement. “She then took her scheme a step further by evading paying taxes on her fraudulent gains. Her crimes reflect a complete disdain for her employer and utter contempt for her responsibilities as an American taxpayer.”
Tranberg acknowledged the fraud in a signed statement to Weyerhaeuser that she wrote on Jan. 15, 2019, the day she was fired in a meeting with company officials at a hotel near the Springfield office. Weyerhaeuser filed the statement in court.
“There is no (one) else to punish but ME,’’ Tranberg wrote, offering to give up her 12 weeks of banked vacation pay, retirement and 401K to try to make things right.
Tranberg defrauded the business by creating fake vendors and approving payment to the vendors by forging co-workers’ signatures. She also would hack into colleagues’ computer systems without authorization or their consent, according to company officials and court records.
“I have no valid reason for what has happen (sic) except I made some very bad choices,’’ Tranberg wrote to her former bosses. “I can never repair the damage I have done but hope to try to make things right. ‘’
Weyerhaeuser, founded in 1900, is one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands, owning or controlling nearly 12.4 million acres of timberlands in the United States, and one of the leading manufacturers of wood products. It employs about 100 staff in Springfield.
Tranberg began working for the company on Oct. 25, 1976, and served as finance and planning manager at the Springfield office when she was fired, according to Justin Nikbakhsh, Weyerhaeuser’s vice president of financial operations.
The company sometimes buys timber from third parties for its manufacturing operations and occasionally makes advance payments to those vendors, allowing them to produce timber under contract to Weyerhaeuser. Since June 2014, such payments were processed electronically.
Weyerhaueser didn’t learn of Tranberg’s alleged theft until Jan. 10, 2019, when it discovered irregularities in certain advance payments to vendors in its electronic system, Nikbakhsh wrote in a sworn statement.
The payments in question were made to vendors identified as M.J. Miller and Margaret J. Miller, the name of Tranberg’s mother who died in 2009, company officials said.
Tranberg had created a phony contract between Weyerhaeuser and fake sellers M.J. Miller and R. J. Miller called the “Tree Farm Family Agreement,’’ which was dated June 16, 1986, according to court papers. Tranberg used her mother’s Social Security number and her own home mailing address to receive fraudulent payments made to the Millers under the fake contract, Nikbakhsh’s statement said.
Weyerhaeuser never received timber under the contract but the payments to the non-existent Millers continued for more than a decade and were pocketed by Tranberg for her personal benefit, Nikbakhsh wrote.
Tranberg forged coworkers’ signatures or used their computer login credentials to approve the payments, according to the court records. Each of the payments was for less than $10,000 to avoid a further level of oversight, the records said. Tranberg also falsely indicated in the company’s electronic system that Weyerhaeuser had received timber from the Millers, company officials alleged
The company’s investigation indicates Tranberg diverted at least $4,581,218 to herself from Weyerhaeuser between 2004 and January 2019, according to Nikbakhsh.
In January 2017, Tranberg’s boss retired and she became finance and planning manager in the Springfield location, using her own credentials to approve the payments. From January 2017 to January 2019, Tranberg received another $688, 475 from a bogus contract, according to Weyerhaeuser’s investigation.
When sentenced, Tranberg could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. An aggravated identity theft conviction also carries a two-year mandatory minimum sentence that must be served consecutive to any other sentence.