University of Central Arkansas police have arrested a former Oxford American office manager who allegedly embezzled an estimated $30,305 from the magazine over the course of the past five months. The employee, Renae Maxwell, was arrested last Tuesday and charged with two felonies, forgery and theft of property over $2,500.
(Disclosure: The reporter of this article formerly worked at the Oxford American and has written for the magazine.)
The Oxford American employed Maxwell, 42, from June 2007 to late January. She committed the theft by writing company checks to herself and forging the signature of an authorized account manager. According to Lt. Preston Grumbles, who led the UCA police’s investigation, none of the forged checks exceeded $2,500. She wrote the first check in September.
It is unclear if Maxwell has a criminal record, but she is not on parole or probation. She is currently free on $15,000 bond.
Maxwell, who kept the Oxford American’s office books, was able to cover her tracks by presenting the magazine’s management with fraudulent account spreadsheets. The scheme crumbled when the magazine’s head accountant asked Maxwell to provide information for year-end financials. The request came on a Friday; Maxwell cleaned out her office over the weekend and didn’t return to work on Monday.
Ray Wittenberg, the Oxford American’s publisher, reported the theft on that same Monday. UCA police subpoenaed bank records and obtained a warrant. They arrested Maxwell after a four-day search. Maxwell offered an unprompted confession at the time of her arrest, authorities said.
The embezzlement is a temporary financial setback for the Oxford American, a non-profit organization in partnership with UCA that runs on a limited budget. The magazine will have to await a court ruling to recoup the loss – assuming an award is granted and that Maxwell is able to pay.
The magazine’s managers said they have taken steps to secure their accounting and prevent a similar crime from occurring in the future. A spokesman for UCA said the magazine has the university’s full support in the matter.
The incident will not affect the magazine’s publishing schedule. Editor Marc Smirnoff said the Oxford American will continue strong as ever, with an expanded anniversary music issue this summer and a new movie issue after that. “We’re a small, poor non-profit, but we’re not going to be defined by common, low-class treachery,” Smirnoff said. “Maxwell won round one, but the game ain’t over.”