HOUSTON, Texas -- Authorities are searching for a Houston bank teller accused of stealing $180,000 from an 86-year-old customer who had come to trust her "like a daughter."
On Friday, Houston Crime Stoppers publicized Cecilia Hope Brown's face and alleged crime as part of their search for the 29-year-old accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars over nearly five months earlier this year.
According to a charging document, Brown built a rapport with an older woman, who was a regular at the Frost Bank, to the point that the woman considered and treated the bank employee "like a daughter."
Brown has been charged with a second-degree felony charge of aggregate theft from an elderly person.
The Houston Police Department's Financial Crimes Division picked up the investigation after the alleged victim asked why her Frost Bank IRA account, which previously had $180,000, showed a balance on July 3 with all but $1.50 gone.
In a charging document, the older woman claimed she hadn't been a recent fraud victim and that she didn't give anyone access to her account except for a bank employee named Cecilia, later identified as Cecilia Hope Brown. The older woman also said she never gave Brown permission to make withdrawals.
According to investigators, the bank showed the victim's account had six unauthorized withdrawals from Feb. 21 through July 3, averaging a little over $23,000 per transaction.
In addition, the victim gave the bank-issued withdrawal slips to investigators, who noted inconsistencies with the older woman's signature and the presence of Brown's own. Brown signs under notary public on some but also as authorized trustee or custodian on most.
Investigators also wrote that the victim's signature on the slips didn't match the one used when the account was opened.
After investigators deduced Brown as the person who accessed the victim's account, the charging document describes surveillance video footage of each day that a withdrawal was made and a bank supervisor's confrontation with her employee.
The supervisor told investigators that she had nothing to suspect Brown of during her employment at Frost until the victim brought her empty account to their attention. According to criminal paperwork, the supervisor checked footage showing Brown taking money from the vault without releasing it to the victim.
When she asked Brown about the withdrawals, the supervisor said her employee claimed to have taken the money out to the victim's vehicle each time, explaining why the older woman wasn't seen on camera. Investigators added that no video evidence supports Brown's claim.
The charging document also describes how Brown took cash stacks out of the vault, hid them underneath papers, walked them out to a teller counter, and stored the money beneath it. She's then seen leaving the bank with boxes from the counter.
Investigators wrote that the bank placed their employee on administrative leave. Before taking that leave, Brown was asked why she withdrew money without the victim present.
"She stated she thought she was doing a good thing for the customer," the supervisor says in the charging document.
Eyewitness News reached out to Frost Bank, which said it doesn't discuss details of ongoing legal action. However, the company said Brown is not employed by Frost, the bank reimbursed the victim's missing money, and it is working with law enforcement on the investigation.
HPD said Brown is not in custody, and a warrant is out for her arrest.
She's described as a white female with brown eyes and brown hair, standing 5 feet tall and weighing 180 pounds.
Crime Stoppers may pay up to $5,000 for information about Brown's location and arrest. Information may be reported by calling 713-222-TIPS (8477), submitted online at www.crime-stoppers.org or through the Crime Stoppers mobile app. All tipsters remain anonymous. Only tips and calls DIRECTLY TO Crime Stoppers are anonymous and eligible for a cash reward.