ALLENDALE, MI – The former general manager of Sleep Inn hotel in Allendale is accused of stealing nearly $900,000 by directing credit card payments to her own accounts, according to an indictment unsealed Friday, Nov. 21.
Renata Nicole Annese is charged with 15 counts of wire fraud and a single count of money laundering.
The government is seeking forfeiture of property on Maplewood Drive in Jenison titled to Renata and Michael Annese. The government is seeking to recover $872,929.23, which investigators estimate to be proceeds of an alleged scheme that began in October 2006 and ended in April 2013, court records showed.
Renata Annese turned herself in Friday to U.S. Marshal’s Service, records showed. She has hired Grand Rapids attorney James Brady to represent her. He was not immediately available for comment on the allegations.
Annese was hired as general manager at Sleep Inn in Allendale in 2004, two years after it opened. The hotel is affiliated with Choice Hotels International, based in Rockville, Md. As general manager, she was responsible for daily operations of the hotel, including processing of credit card transactions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Stella wrote in the indictment.
Here’s how Stella said the alleged scheme worked:
Credit and debit cards at the hotel would cause wire transmissions to be made through corporate services in Arizona and then through a Shift4 system in Nevada. Shift4 then sent authorization requests to the issuing bank for each customer, and stored the authorized transactions in a “batch” on its computer system.
Once the customer’s stay was complete, credit and debit card authorizations were then converted to actual payments. Shift4 allows hotels to review and edit credit and debit card transactions before converting the authorizations into a final payment.
This process allows hotels to reserve authorizations in the event that a customer does not ultimately stay at the hotel or is dissatisfied with service and requires a refund.
Annese had sole responsibility for reviewing credit and debit card transactions. She would log onto Shift4’s system using a unique account number, user name and password to review, edit or remove transactions before releasing a daily batch for final processing and payment to the hotel.
She allegedly carried out the scheme by fraudulently editing batches of credit cards in the Shift4 system before releasing them for payment. She manually entered her credit or debit card account numbers into the system and used a customer’s name to make it look like the transaction belonged to that customer, Stella wrote.
“By using the customer’s name and making the transaction amount match the amount of the legitimate transaction with the customer’s card, Renata Nicole Annese made the fraudulent transaction appear to be a legitimate refund to that customer, Stella said.
The money laundering charge alleges she wrote a check for $18,930.84 to Betten Imports to buy a vehicle, Stella wrote in court records.