OT?: An innocent man

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Second missing bag led bank to finding a glitch in machine

Wednesday, March 8, 2000

By Steven Hepker Staff Writer

Robert Farnsworth Jr. would still be a convicted embezzler today if not for Michael George.

George, who oversees three Paul's Auto Wash locations for Auto Wash Services, went to the president of Comerica Bank when bank employees couldn't explain the loss of $1,825 in December.

"I went to Rick Davies, who is a friend, because we weren't getting anywhere with the bank," George said. "I said we had to find that missing money."

A manager had deposited a bag of money in the Cascades Branch bank on Dec. 29, and because of employee changes, Y2K, the holidays and fate, George didn't know the money was missing until later in January. "We were going to suspect a manager who quit in January," George said.

Instead, George wanted to exhaust all angles, including an inspection of the night deposit vault.

On Feb. 28, Diebold technicians took the vault apart and found three bags of cash, including a Jan. 8, 2000, Rite Aid deposit of $2,971. Bank officials said Rite Aid wasn't aware the money was missing.

According to a letter from Comerica to police, the three bags "were caught up by the mechanism." Instead of falling into the depository, the bags slid around the mechanism and were trapped in the top of it.

Alarms and a grate prevented employees from opening the mechanism and finding the bag, bank officials said.

Why didn't Comerica summon Diebold technicians to search for the bag Farnsworth said he deposited on March 11 for Wendy's? Farnsworth, then a day manager at Wendy's who was convicted last summer of embezzling in the case, had insisted the bag must be somehow stuck in the bank, because he doesn't steal.

"We had 65 night drops a week, and no other complaints from customers," Comerica spokeswoman Kathy Pitton said. "There was no evidence of a malfunction."

George has made night deposits for 30 years, and only once before did the bank lose a money bag.

"I can see why Wendy's did what they did," he said. "It was a one-in-a-million thing, and they really didn't do anything wrong."


An innocent man

Wednesday, March 8, 2000

By Steven Hepker Staff Writer

In July, a jury convicted Robert Farnsworth Jr. of stealing a bag of money from a Wendy's restaurant when he made a daily bank deposit.

On Monday, he learned Comerica Bank found the missing bag containing $2,289.20 in the deposit vault, wedged with two other missing money bags.


"Everybody turned their backs on me. Everybody believed I took the money," Farnsworth said Tuesday.

He's relieved but bitter, and says his next move might be to enlist famed attorney Geoffrey Fieger for some financial vengeance against Wendy's and Comerica - neither of which has offered an apology.

Alan LeCrone, a spokesman for restaurant owner David J. Stanton and Associates, said he had not heard the money was found, and declined comment.

A Comerica spokeswoman said Farnsworth and Wendy's will get an apology. "We want to work with the legal system, and the most important thing now is to clear his name," said Comerica's Kathy Pitton in Detroit.

Circuit Judge Charles Nelson, who sentenced Farnsworth to a six-month suspended jail term and three years probation, today wiped out the conviction. He signed an order returning Farnsworth's police photos and fingerprints, destroying his files and refunding restitution and fees.

"My apology on behalf of the proofs that convicted him," Nelson said. "It is obvious you didn't do it."

The action came nearly a year after Farnsworth said police, prosecutors, bank employees and Wendy's managers railroaded him. "I told them and I told them that deposit bag had to be in that bank, and they did not believe me," he said. "Their attitude was that I was guilty and they were going to get me."

He especially remembers a state police detective who he said badgered him into a confession during a polygraph test, and Assistant Prosecutor Susan Dehnke, who built the case against him and tripped up his 10-year-old daughter on the witness stand.

Dehnke said nothing to Farnsworth on the record today.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Lady, who filed the motion to set aside the conviction, said Farnsworth was prosecuted and convicted with the evidence that was available.

Farnsworth said it wasn't just that he wasunfairly punished, but the way in which he was treated by nearly everyone beyond friends and family.

"I remember at the hearing when we tried to suppress the polygraph results," Farnsworth said. "The (state police) detective laughed at me. Laughed in my face."

Farnsworth, 29, worked at the Wendy's at 1300 S. West for 10 years and was a day manager. On March 11, just before 6 p.m., Farnsworth and his daughter, Jessica, walked across High Street to deposit two bags of receipts in the night drop at the Cascades Branch of Comerica.

A week later, his boss, Bill O'Connell, and store manager Jason Hatt called him into the office. "O'Connell said he wanted his (expletive) money and I had three days to come up with it," he said.

His life quickly tumbled downhill. A Jackson police officer questioned him at Wendy's March 18, and a month later, Wendy's managers fired Farnsworth on an "unrelated" matter.

"It was a day after Wendy's got a letter from the prosecutor that they fired me for some incident they used as a scapegoat," he said.

Farnsworth turned himself in to Detective Maurice Crawford in April. He was arrested and arraigned, but not jailed.

Then came the state police polygraph test and confession in which Farnsworth wrote that he deposited only one money bag.

"It was their words, not his," wife Linda said. "They had pressured him into a confession."

Meanwhile, attorney Lineas L. Baze was convinced Farnsworth dropped two bags in the night deposit, and not just because he represented him.

Testimony by three bank employees helped sink his client, Baze said. "In cross-examination of the bank employees, they were asked if the money bag could have gotten stuck somewhere, and they said: 'Absolutely impossible,' " Baze said. "What is interesting about the case is that banks actually lose money."

Managers at the Cascades Branch declined to speak with a reporter Tuesday.

Although Nelson gave Farnsworth a suspended six-month jail term, he was still a convicted criminal with all the baggage that entails. It has haunted the Farnsworths, who filed for bankruptcy because of legal fees and loss of income.

"Everybody who knows him, knows he didn't do it," Linda said.

The Farnsworths, who were childhood sweethearts, graduated from Jackson High School in 1988 and married 10 years ago. They live in a house trailer in Spring Arbor with their two daughters, and scrape to get by. Linda works at an office in Jackson, and Robert works the night shift at a factory, for much less than he made as a Wendy's manager.

"I loved my job. I had perfect attendance at Wendy's my last year, never called in, worked past my shifts and did a good job," he said. "I'll never work in fast food again." http://aa.mlive.com/news/index.ssf?/news/stories/20000308jinnoce380.frm

-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 09, 2000

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