Serial embezzler pleads guilty to stealing from TAN

Peggy Lynn Gibson exits the Jefferson County Courthouse

When former Triangle Area Network (TAN) director Peggy Lynn Gibson pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $200,000 from the nonprofit in front of Jefferson County’s 252nd District Court Judge Raquel West on Wednesday, April 20, many were surprised that the charismatic and energetic executive would be morally capable of such indiscretion. However, this isn’t the first time Gibson has absconded with tens of thousands of dollars meant for the healthcare of those she was paid to assist.

“It did not show up on any of the background checks,” TAN board of directors president Jeff McManus said of eventually learning that Gibson had embezzled from her last employer before finding a new victim in the nonprofit TAN, staffed mostly by volunteers. “From what I know now, she was barely out of that when she started with us.”

According to information obtained by The Examiner, Gibson was charged with embezzling at least $108,000 from Texas Home Health in Hardin County while she was employed by the healthcare provider in 2009. At the end of 2010, she agreed to pay back the money in exchange for the complainant dismissing charges. By January 2012, it appears she still had yet to make good on her end of the bargain as a Hardin County grand jury indicted Gibson on second-degree theft charges for the 2009 embezzlement. A little more than a year later, in July 2013, Hardin County prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges because “the defendant has paid restitution in full.”

Where she got the money to pay off her $100,000-plus bounty is open to speculation, but according to the Jefferson County indictment that charges she went on to embezzle more than $363,000 from TAN, her crimes against the Beaumont nonprofit started in January 2013 and continued until November 2014.

“She has a past history of embezzlement,” Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham said. “She has a prior record of stealing. She got out of the last embezzlement by finding the money and paying it off.

“We’d really like to know where that money came from.”

McManus said that had TAN known about the prior allegations, Gibson would not have been in charge of financial matters at TAN.

“We did our due diligence, but nothing ever came up,” McManus asserted.

Past criminal record

An out-of-state criminal background check may have alerted someone to at least some of Gibson’s prior bad acts, but they would have to know some of her many other names – such as Peggy Coker, Peggy Redmond and Peggy Doan.

It was under the name Peggy Doan that the admitted embezzler was first convicted of theft. According to a criminal background check, Gibson (Doan) pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and one count of forgery in El Paso County, Colorado in 1996. She was given deferred adjudication and a fine.

Gibson later went on to register a string of businesses – some of which are still in operation, according to filings made with the state of Texas. It is alleged that one way she was able to embezzle from past employers was by opening up similarly named companies and depositing checks meant for the legitimate firm. Among the companies attributed to Gibson are PCDC Enterprises Inc., operated under Peggy Coker, still in existence to this day; Shear Illusions; Diemtrinh Corporation, which is still in existence; and Hatikvah Enterprises Inc., aka Curves, where current owner Rhonda Champagne said Gibson has not been an affiliated party for years.

Despite the “years” she’s been gone from the company, Gibson still used the Curves business phone number as a point of contact as little as one year ago when she filed tax papers related to PCDC Enterprises’ franchise tax public disclosure.

“She was really quite a brilliant mind, and very knowledgeable about what she was doing,” McManus said of the former employee and admitted felon. “She started out as our bookkeeper. She won the trust of everyone there.

“Then she took total advantage of everything. She’s a professional con artist.”

Criminal mastermind

Gibson didn’t have any words of remorse for her crimes against society as she barreled her way through the Jefferson County Courthouse on April 20 toward a side staircase she used to shy away from the public and press there to document the guilty plea of a woman who admittedly absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for the healthcare of primarily uninsured and underinsured Southeast Texans. Her attorney David Barlow, however, did speak on her behalf.

“There was never a question of guilt,” Barlow said. “She has always admitted her guilt.”

What she was not admitting was that she stole as much as she is charged with embezzling.

“We agree it was over $200,000,” Barlow said, but argued that is was less than the $363,000 the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office alleges Gibson stole. According to the privately secured defense attorney, Gibson was offered a plea deal of 20 years in prison by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, but she turned it down – hoping for a lighter sentence by throwing herself on the mercy of Judge West.

“I couldn’t speak about any deal offered to a defendant, but since the defense attorney brought it up, I did agree to 20 years – although I was willing to go up,” Wortham said. “I wouldn’t take one day less, though.

“From TAN, you are stealing from the pool of people who have less and need more than any segment of our society. TAN is a great organization that helps individuals who cannot afford healthcare. It’s just selfish and greedy to steal from the poorest of the poor.”

Wortham voiced dismay in Gibson’s choice of victims dating back to her embezzlement from the home health provider in Hardin County.

“This train has to come to a stop sometime,” he said, “and it’s going to be in Jefferson County. This woman needs to be held accountable for her actions, and that is my job. She’s been able to get out of it in the past, but she just hit a roadblock.”

Gibson’s attorney, Barlow, said that TAN was not out any money since Gibson was insured. Not true, McManus said.

“We did have insurance, but it was only for $100,000,” McManus said. “We still ended up being cut way short. We did our due diligence in trying to protect ourselves against this type of loss – not ever dreaming it could be of such an amount.”

According to information presented by the District Attorney’s Office, Gibson took checks valued at $323,326.85; purchased property without consent in the amount of $20,926.54; and paid daughter Amanda Coker, who was not employed by TAN, $19,200. It was the money paid to her daughter that initially caught the eye of TAN employees, according to McManus.

“Our people were always busy helping the clients – nobody was busy watching her,” he said, adding that TAN has a small crew of professionals with very full plates. “They certainly weren’t doing their own investigative work thinking she was a crook.

“She took advantage of that.”

Gibson was also careful not to draw the ire of the federal government, McManus further revealed, as none of the funds Gibson embezzled were connected to grant money.

“She was able to figure out every loophole – because she had more than one,” he said. “She was actually quite brilliant.

“It’s disgusting – it really is. Knowing the prior time she did this was a nursing home – she’s really a disgusting person.”

Although they may never fully recover what was taken, McManus said he believes it is in the public’s best interest to pursue criminal charges rather than allow Gibson to beat the system yet again by just simply paying back what she stole and walking away as if nothing happened.

“We want to see her get jail time,” McManus said. “We were very committed to that after we found out after the fact that she has done this before.

“No part of the scenario is where she can pay it back and get off scot-free.”

Wortham agrees.

“If she had done pen (penitentiary) time last time, she wouldn’t have been employed with TAN, she wouldn’t have been put in a position where she’s handling money,” Wortham said. “TAN put it in my hands to make the decisions. They asked me to do what I thought was in the best interest of them and the county. We concur that she needs to go to the pen.”

Gibson faces anywhere from probation to life in prison for the first-degree felony she admitted to April 20.

The aftermath

TAN, originally founded as Triangle AIDS Network in 1987, has had to completely audit its functions and begin to operate with enhanced security measures in place to ensure that another Gibson doesn’t bilk the nonprofit.

“We’ve instituted many, many features in our accounting programs, layers of safety features with the bank. We’ve relooked at policies and procedures and made amendments to those,” McManus said, adding that they have contracted with a company to not only address those issues, but to also perform employee hiring and payroll at outside offices so that no employee can pay family members without anyone noticing ever again. “We’re also involved more than any board should rightfully be, but knowing what happened, we are involved all the time. We had an internal investigation, and they made a long list of things we should look into ... and we completed all the things.”

Whether those controls could have stopped Gibson from stealing more than $300,000 is unclear, though.

“I can’t describe the levels of deceit or deception, but people who would do something like that are usually very good at it,” McManus lamented.