It stands as one of the biggest cases of payroll and business fraud in recent memory in Eastern Washington.

One of two former bookkeepers for Zirkle Fruit Company will spend five years and eight months behind bars for her role in a payroll scam that bilked the biggest fruit company in our region out of nearly one million dollars.

52-year-old Norma Ruth Garza plead guilty this week in Benton County Superior Court to counts of organized crime and forgery.

Since 2010, Garza, another bookkeeper and others were involved in the scheme in which at least 9 phantom employees were set up to receive paychecks for work never done. Over the last seven years, the total came to just over $956,000. The other bookkeeper and Garza worked out of the company's Patterson office.

The scheme was discovered after Garza and the other woman, Maria Teresa Galarza, were both off work for personal reasons. A manager at a Finley ranch that's part of the company asked why he had received an extra ten paychecks. Both Garza and Galarza reportedly tried to play it off as a mistake, but officials felt it was suspicious enough to investigate. An audit found the fraud was dating back to 2010.

While Garza is the first of 11 cases to be tried and adjudicated in this incident, Galarza and her husband are no where to be found, according to the Tri-City Herald. ]

Garza's husband, Enrique Barriga Moreno, is accused of cashing some 272 paychecks under the alias of Daniel Alvarez. He's going on trial January 29th.

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