Woman accused of York County embezzlement left trail of similar cases over 10 years

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

The preliminary hearing didn’t take long, maybe a few minutes, followed by some time for paperwork.

After that, Phuong Nguyen-Davis and her attorney walked out of the district courthouse in Manchester and to their cars on Nov. 10.

They left 20 felony charges hanging over Nguyen-Davis: One count of theft and 19 counts of illegal access of devices stem from accusations she bilked her former employer out of more than $915,000.

Phuong Nguyen-Davis from 2014

A similar case is expected to be filed in Maryland. Meanwhile, court records show that Nguyen-Davis owes more than $150,000 in restitution from three similar cases over the last decade.

Inside the courthouse, two business owners were frustrated.

“You know it’s been five times, five different companies,” Jim Vaughn said.

Vaughn runs the Hellam Township-based Advanced Fluid Systems where Nguyen-Davis worked until May. The company, with Vaughn as president, is at the heart of the current criminal case.

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The five businesses he mentioned are presumably AFS, an aerospace company in Maryland that hired Nguyen-Davis after she left AFS this year, and three other companies she stole from back-to-back-to-back a decade ago.

Weaver and Sons Excavation in Wrightsville was one of them.

The company lost at least $14,705 from checks Nguyen-Davis forged while she worked there in 2013, according to charging documents.

Owner Mark Weaver fumed over the pattern of thefts.

“She’s an evil, vicious predator. She preys on people’s weaknesses. She does it wherever she goes,” he said, after the Nov. 10 hearing. “She came in when I was going through a rough time and started stealing within days.”

Nguyen-Davis, 56, and her attorney, Sean Quinlan, did not respond to requests seeking comments from them.

The charges in the current case against her were filed in August following an investigation into Vaughn’s allegations of theft at AFS.

Court documents indicate she posted a $15,000 bail with surety bonds in September. The bail was modified after the hearing to include supervised conditions as prosecutors expect the other case in Maryland to be filed soon.

Vaughn told Hellam Township police he hired Nguyen-Davis in January 2017 as accounts payable/human resources staff.

Hellam Township Police Department in Hellam Township, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In late May of this year, a bank invoice became a thread he pulled, and he said he found unauthorized charges on company credit cards, including several she allegedly opened without permission. Some had Vaughn’s name on them, and at least one had another name Nguyen-Davis used: Fawn Davis, according to police.

As AFS managers and a detective pulled on the threads, they found charges to 19 credit cards, including Home Depot accounts. The total amount of unauthorized transactions from AFS, charging documents show, was $915,045.

About half of that amount, $478,357, went directly to a merchant called D&G Serviced. Police said Nguyen-Davis created the business using her names and the name Derrick Gilliam, a man she was said to be in a relationship with.

Gilliam has not been charged in this case, according to court records.

Investigators allege Nguyen-Davis used AFS cards to “pay” D&G Serviced, with money going to at least two attached bank accounts. Then she’d allegedly pay the credit card bills with company money, according to the charging documents.

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Alleged transactions police uncovered included those for flights, car leases, appliances, groceries, medical appointments and apparently home electric bills.

Vaughn also accused Nguyen-Davis of spending $15,000 on a family weekend trip to a resort in West Virginia while he spoke at the courthouse.

A few days after the first thread was pulled on the unauthorized card transactions, Vaughn told police wrote a note that she was taking a vacation day the Friday before Memorial Day. She then allegedly took her employee records and left, charging documents show.

Some card charges continued into June while the investigation was underway, according to police.

Vaughn, at 84, voiced disappointment with the significant breach in trust.

“With my generation, your handshake was good. I was duped by a nice, middle-aged lady that was divorced, tried to help her out, and didn’t pay close attention to what was going on,” he told The Dispatch.

A month after she left AFS, she was hired June 27 as a new business manager at Aerolab in Jessup, Md.

CEO Hareen Aparakakankanage told The Dispatch in September that he uncovered fraud at the company about a month into Nguyen-Davis’ employment. He said he found a nearly $1,000 charge for an Airbnb stay to a company card, and then more fraudulent charges and some false payrolls.

Several charges, he alleged, went to a PayPal account under the name “Davis Photography.” He said Nguyen-Davis used company money to pay invoices from the PayPal account.

When Aparakakankanage confronted Nguyen-Davis about the charges and wanted to settle the balance, he said she left him $1,000 in cash and disappeared. He estimated Aerolab lost between $12,000 and $14,000 from the alleged fraud.

He also reported the theft to police, and a Howard County detective confirmed an investigation was underway in September. A criminal case hasn’t been filed there as of Friday.

The investigations this year follow a string of three investigations from late 2012 through 2013, which led to charges against Nguyen-Davis, guilty pleas and convictions. The cases sprung from allegations reported by three previous employers: Weaver Excavation, Keystone Certifications Inc. and Jacoby Plumbing.

Staff at Keystone made the first report. They told police in December 2012 that they uncovered accounting discrepancies, and a review showed Nguyen-Davis made 117 illegal transactions with forged checks between July 2010 and that December while working as a bookkeeper there.

The amount stolen was $137,359, police said in charging documents.

When company staff asked to speak to Nguyen-Davis about the discrepancies, they alleged she said she had to get something from her desk, and then fled the business, according to police.

When police interviewed her as part of the investigation, Nguyen-Davis admitted she forged numerous checks and cashed them for money, police said.

She was charged with forgery and theft in January 2013.

As that case moved forward, Nguyen-Davis went to work for Weaver as an office manager that April.

By that July, he reported theft allegations to police, saying when he confronted Nguyen-Davis about it, she admitted she took about $500 a week while working at the company, charging documents show.

Weaver gave investigators copies of 15 forged checks, dated between early May and early July 2013, that amounted to $14,705, police said.

He told The Dispatch another company called him with a tip about Nguyen-Davis.

“Another York County company that she worked for called me and said, ‘she stole beaucoup amounts of money from us as well,’” he said.

When police interviewed Nguyen-Davis in Weaver’s case, documents show she admitted to taking the money by writing forged checks to herself and Gillian.

The money went into a bank account in Gilliam’s name, and Nguyen-Davis told police she opened it without his knowledge, charging documents show.

Charges of theft, forgery and illegal access of a device were filed in this case that July while Nguyen-Davis was working through the court process in the Keystone case.

She next worked for Jacoby Plumbing in York as a bookkeeper.

By early November 2013, Adam Jacoby and his wife reported to police that Nguyen-Davis had forged several checks and cashed them. She had either written them to herself or to other people, according to charging documents.

A couple weeks later, she apparently pleaded guilty in the first two cases, according to court records, but wasn’t immediately sentenced.

She was charged that December with two counts of forgery in this case involving Jacoby Plumbing, to which she also pleaded guilty.

Sentences in all three cases came in March 2014 when Michael Bortner, who was judge at the time, ordered Nguyen-Davis to serve altogether 21 months to 3-and-a-half years at York County Prison followed by eight years of probation, according to information from the three cases.

Nguyen-Davis was also ordered to pay a total $164,522 in restitution in all three cases, according to figures in court records.

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The figures show restitution amounts of $142,973 to Keystone; $20,182 to Weaver; and $2,366 to Jacoby.

Payments on the restitutions, along with costs and fees, started in 2014 and went through the first three quarters of this year, including while she was under investigation in the summer. Court records show payments of about $250 a month for each case.

But the payments apparently ended in August when Nguyen-Davis was charged in the AFS case, according to court records. Those records indicate that after the payments and adjustments she still owes $141,774 in restitution to Keystone, $15,880 to Weaver, and $1,167 to Jacoby.

The York County Clerk’s Office filed a cost contempt case in 2019 due to the outstanding amounts.

After advancing out of district court in the new case, Nguyen-Davis is scheduled to be arraigned into the York County Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 6.

A hearing in the cost contempt case is scheduled for Dec. 16, court records show.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.