August 19, 2022

Former Citigroup Accountant Accused of Embezzling $19.2 Million

But federal prosecutors claim Mr. Foster gave himself a bonus fit for a star investment banker by embezzling more than $19.2 million from Citi before its auditors picked up on the scheme.

Mr. Foster, a 35-year-old former assistant vice president in Citi’s internal treasury finance department, was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at Kennedy Airport Sunday morning after returning from a trip to Europe and Asia.

On Monday afternoon, he pleaded not guilty to charges of bank fraud at a hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn and was expected to be set free on $800,000 bond.

Mr. Foster, who is divorced and has two children, had been enjoying the high life. He owned six properties, including an apartment in Midtown Manhattan; two luxury apartments in Jersey City; a $1.35 million house in Tenafly, N.J.; and a $3 million home in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., that had a $500,000 entertainment system and bathroom mirrors that turned to video screens when touched, according to a law enforcement official.

He also owned a Maserati GranTurismo and BMW 550xi. A Ferrari was on order, said the official, who was not authorized to speak about the investigation.

Mr. Foster’s lawyer, Isabelle A. Kirshner, said that she had spoken only briefly with her client and had just started to review the allegations.

“We will investigate the matter thoroughly,” she said. She would not comment on her client’s personal assets.

The fraud charges are the latest effort by the Justice Department to crack down on white-collar crime at a time when the agency is under increasing pressure to hold Wall Street bankers accountable. This case is against a relatively junior Citigroup executive, and appears to have little to do with the financial crisis.

Still, it is yet another embarrassment for a bank that once made its entire work force take an ethics pledge and uses “responsible finance” as a corporate slogan.

It also raises new questions about Citi’s internal controls, nearly two years after regulators forced it to strengthen its risk management and compliance practices upon losing tens of billions of dollars during the financial crisis.

Earlier this month, the bank came under fire from lawmakers after taking more than a month to disclose that hackers stole data from more 360,000 Citi credit card accounts.

In this case, it took nearly a year after the claimed embezzlement began before Citigroup’s internal auditors uncovered that millions of dollars were missing.

According to the complaint, Mr. Foster transferred the money from various Citigroup corporate accounts to his own bank account at JPMorgan Chase late last year. From July to December 2010, he moved about $900,000 from Citigroup’s interest expense account and about $14.4 million from Citigroup’s debt adjustment account to the bank’s main cash account. Then, on eight separate occasions, he wired the money to a personal account at Chase.

To conceal some of the transactions, the complaint contended that Mr. Foster used a false contract or deal number to be placed in the reference line of the wire transfer. Mr. Foster voluntarily quit Citigroup in January, according to a person briefed on his employment. His reasons for leaving are not known.

“The defendant allegedly used his knowledge of bank operations to commit the ultimate inside job,” said Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.

Citigroup detected the fraud a couple of weeks ago during an internal audit of the treasury department, where Mr. Foster worked, according to the complaint and a person briefed on the situation. The bank said it immediately contacted law enforcement officers after discovering the suspicious transactions and has put in additional safeguards and internal controls.

“We are outraged by the actions of this former employee,” said Shannon Bell, a Citigroup spokeswoman. “In light of the ongoing investigation, we cannot comment any further at this time.”

Mr. Foster joined Citigroup in 1999, shortly after graduating from Rutgers University with an accounting degree, according to his profile on LinkedIn. He rose to become an assistant vice president, supervising the derivatives unit in the bank’s treasury finance department.

Since leaving Citigroup, he has billed himself as a part-time hedge fund consultant, according to his profile. On Facebook, he counts “traveling the world” as a favorite activity.

Mr. Foster was traveling in Europe and Asia, when an F.B.I. agent showed up at the home of his parents in Teaneck, N.J., early last week, according to his lawyer. Alerted by his parents, she added, Mr. Foster immediately contacted the F.B.I. agent and made arrangements to return to the United States.

Mr. Foster was arrested on Sunday morning after arriving on a flight from Bangkok.

If convicted, Mr. Foster faces up to 30 years in jail.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

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