Newspaper charges ex-employees in P2.3M ‘ad fraud’

SunStar Bacolod Team led by its editor-in-chief Marchel Espina (center) during the filing of criminal charges before the Bacolod City Prosecutor’s Office against its two former employees in relation to more than P2.3 million worth of unaccounted advertisement transactions Tuesday. (Contributed Photo)

By Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD CITY – A newspaper based here filed criminal charges Tuesday, April 16, against two former employees linked to more than P2.3 million in unaccounted advertisement transactions.

SunStar Bacolod Publishing Inc. accused a past business manager and a marketing assistant of qualified theft and estafa after terminating both on September 1, 2023. The real names of the respondents have been withheld in the meantime.

Anthony Onrejas, management head of SunStar Publishing, Inc., and SunStar Bacolod’s authorized representative, along with legal counsel Jasper Pelayo and the company’s team, led by Editor-in-Chief Marchel Espina, attended the case filing at the city’s Hall of Justice.

Daily Guardian is still seeking comments from the respondents.

Last year, the respondents allegedly conspired to inflate advertising rates and falsify the publication’s official receipts.

Onrejas’s complaint affidavit details how the duo overcharged clients, as evidenced by discrepancies between receipts and the publication’s account books. The transactions were even reflected in the Books of Accounts of the newspaper.

On August 2, 2023, Onrejas and Pelayo issued a written notice to the former employees, seeking an explanation for the alleged conspiracy and receipt tampering.

The former marketing assistant, in an August 4, 2023 explanation and resignation, confessed to setting inflated prices and manipulating receipts, implicating the business manager.

The business manager, in a concurrent resignation letter, confirmed her complicity and acknowledged receipt of funds from these actions.

The management then formed an Audit Team, led by Onrejas and Jade Laranjo, operations analyst of SunStar Publishing, Inc, to assess the damages/losses incurred from January to June 2023.

Their investigation revealed multiple advertisements published without contracts, causing a loss of P1,874,902.38.

Breakdowns of unauthorized ad placements include P440,758.10 in January P355,341.61 in February; P491,423.63 in March; P171,522.69 in April; P134,230.99 in May; and P281,625.36 in June.

The team employed advertising rate guidelines to uncover under-declared amounts totaling P474,351.85.

“Since the main issue was tampering or overpricing of receipts, the Audit Team carefully and technically performed within the guidelines from the Advertising Rates of SunStar Bacolod. Depending on the size of the advertisement, a corresponding rate should appear in the Books of Accounts of SunStar Bacolod as stipulated and mandated by our rates,” the complaint-affidavit said.

Onrejas expressed shock at finding ads without contracts, emphasizing that ads should not appear without client payment.

Onrejas noted that an ad contract is the main source for the client to pay for its advertising obligations with SunStar Bacolod.

“Without the ad contract, no advertisement should be posted in the newspaper. Furthermore, if an advertisement did appear in the newspaper without any ad contract, it means, no payment has been made to SunStar,” he said.

The affidavit also pointed out that as part of their duties and obligations with SunStar Bacolod, the respondents are deemed to see to it that advertising postings should be well supported with advertising contracts. Further, advertising postings should be properly paid for by the client.

“The absence of advertising contracts are clear cut evidence of abuse of trust and confidence over the positions held by the two respondents. In this case, there is clear taking of money, with intent to gain, and clearly, without the consent of SunStar Bacolod. As the same money is stolen due to a breach of trust in their respective positions, the respondents should be liable for qualified theft,” the complaint-affidavit stressed.

It also said that their acts “may also be a crime of estafa since they receive the money for payment and convert the same for their own use or benefit.”

On the overpricing of advertising rates and tampering of receipts, the Audit Team found the discrepancy or under-declaration amounting to P474,351.85 from January to June 2023.

“Taking everything in context, including the reason for the termination of employment, absence of advertisement contracts, and discrepancies in the recorded Books of Accounts via the Audits Findings, we can ultimately recognize that the respondents are guilty of either qualified theft or estafa,” the complaint-affidavit said.

It also stressed that the total actual damages that the two former employees caused amounted to P2,349,254.23.

Prior to their termination, the complaint claimed that the former marketing assistant did not follow the preventive suspension order by “deceitfully acting as SunStar agent or employee and accepting advertisement materials despite the legal barriers during the said prevention period,” the affidavit said.

The complainant also sought the court to order the two to pay P300,000 in exemplary damages to SunStar Bacolod Publishing, Inc.