John Wright Martin

John Wright Martin stands accused of embezzling $1M-plus from former employers; also ordered to pay damages in civil suit

Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
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A Dallas man is set to go on trial in Collin County at the end of June on four felony charges in connection with funds allegedly embezzled from his former employers, and, in a separate civil suit, has been ordered to pay damages totaling more than $2 million.

John Wright Martin, 33, who sponsored several events and donated to nonprofits in the LGBT community over the last several years, faces two separate first degree felony charges of theft (more than $300,000), one third degree felony charge of theft (between $30,000 and $150,000), and one state felony charge of forgery of a financial instrument.

Wright is accused of having embezzled more than $1 million from Randy and Kristy Pitchford, the Frisco couple for whom he worked as a personal assistant beginning in 2014. He allegedly used some of the embezzled funds to make large donations — both cash donations and items for charity auctions — to local nonprofit agencies serving the LGBT and HIV communities.

Randy Pitchford is a co-founder and CEO and president of Gearbox Software, based in Frisco. His wife, Kristy, is writer and producer and also owns Nerdvana Café restaurant and coffee shop in Frisco.

In a hearing held Thursday, Feb. 15, Judge Andrea Thompson, in Collin County’s 416th District Court, set Wright’s trial on all four charges for June 25.

That same day, Judge Bruce McFarling in the 362nd District Court in Denton County issued a summary judgment in a civil lawsuit the Pitchfords filed against Martin, ordering Martin to pay the couple more than $2 million in damages.

The civil suit and the criminal charges were filed in different counties because Frisco — where the Pitchfords live and where Martin lived at one time — is located in both Collin and Denton counties.

The Frisco Police Department investigated the criminal charges.

In a statement Feb. 15 after McFarling issued his ruling, Randy Pitchford said he and his wife were pleased with the outcome of the civil suit.

“The discovery of John Wright Martin’s theft, deceit and betrayal of trust has been devastating to our family,” Randy Pitchford said. “His crimes not only caused tangible irreparable damage to our local businesses and charities, including the fine people and their families that depend upon them, but his crimes have also harmed and distressed the larger sense of well being of everyone in the community that his behavior has imposed upon.

“My family and I have been grateful for the support of local law enforcement and local prosecutors in the effort to bring the dangerous charlatan, John Wright Martin, to justice,” Randy Pitchford added.

“Today’s victories in court give me confidence that justice will be served.”

The allegations
In an interview last fall, Kristy Pitchford told Dallas Voice that she began looking for a personal assistant in early 2014, when she was dealing with “a lot of stuff on my plate” both at home and in connection with Kristy Pitchford Enterprises. She hired Martin, who told her he had just moved to Dallas from Abilene, in February 2014.

She said Martin quickly proved to be “really good” not only at managing the Pitchford household, but also at event planning, and that soon she was giving him greater access as he took over paying household bills and played an integral role in her efforts to design and open her restaurant, Nerdvana. Giving him access to certain household accounts and credit cards proved to be an efficient shortcut, she said

“Eventually, he had practically unlimited access” to the household accounts, she said.

Randy Pitchford recalled how happy Kristy was to have someone she could rely on to help manage their household as she expanded her businesses. “John was so eager to help,” he said. “He was part of the family. We trusted him.”

“We absolutely trusted him,” Kristy Pitchford added. But by early 2017, they had discovered their trust had been misplaced, they said.

The Pitchfords said that by the spring of 2016, Martin was spending more and more of his time building his own interior design business and less time working as Kristy Pitchford’s assistant. He bought a large home in Frisco, near the Pitchfords’ home, using money he said he had inherited from his grandfather, and was supposedly getting more and more work as a designer as he was spending less and less time working for the Pitchfords.

“He started bringing ‘his assistants’ into my house, because he was so busy with his company,” Kristy Pitchford said. “That made me really uncomfortable. It was strange to me that my assistant had assistants.”

By October 2016, Martin had officially stopped working for the Pitchfords.

“I was devastated to lose him,” Kristy Pitchford said. “He was my friend as well as my employee. But at the same time, I understood him wanting to spend his time on his own business.”

A few months later, however, Kristy Pitchford said, came the first real indication that all had not been as it seemed. It was Feb. 15, 2017, when her business assistant contacted Kristy Pitchford to let her know that the account she used to pay her employees was empty.

It was a Friday evening, Kristy Pitchford said, that the bank’s branch manager told her the account had been drained via a $150,000 auto draft. “My first instinct was to call John. And he was so ready for me,” she said.

He immediately told her that there had been a banking error, that the money was supposed to have been taken from his account, she recalled.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got this covered.’ A part of me was like, this feels really off. But at the same time, there was no evidence for me not to believe him,” Kristy Pitchford said.

But as she began digging deeper into her accounts, Kristy Pitchford said she began to realize that “things weren’t adding up.” By the following Monday, she said, she had realized that at least a half-million dollars were missing from her accounts.

Martin promised to wire the money to cover the mistake. But, Kristy Pitchford said, Martin kept making excuses on why he hadn’t yet wired her the money. Then she and her husband discovered discrepancies in other accounts. And by the end of the week, Martin had stopped even answering their messages.

The Pitchfords said that as the days passed, they found more and more evidence of their former employee’s duplicity.

He had told people that he was a partner in Kristy Pitchford Enterprises, using his connection with the couple to drum up customers for his interior design business, they said. They said Martin would use their credit accounts to take “business” trips, even staging an exclusive party in Miami to promote an artist friend of his. He would also purchase expensive furniture, artwork and other furnishings with the Pitchfords’ credit accounts, they said, and then turn around and sell them to other shops for cash.

Kristy Pitchford said once police began investigating the case, they discovered that the thefts “began within just a few months of him starting to work for us. It was just little things here and there at first, but it grew.”

Even after Martin was caught and initially arrested, she added, “he was still embezzling from my restaurant account.”

Criminal court records
Collin County records online show five criminal cases against Martin currently pending.

Frisco police filed a first degree felony charge against Martin of theft of property (more than $300,000) on Aug. 10, 2017. Offense date is listed as March 9, 2016.

On Oct. 10, 2017, Frisco police filed a second first degree felony charge of theft of property (more than $300,000) and a state felony charge of forgery of a financial instrument against Martin.

The Collin County District Attorney’s Office a third degree felony charge of theft of property ($30,000-150,000) against Martin on Nov. 16, 2017.

All four of the felony charges were filed by indictment. All four cases are set for a discovery conference hearing on May 25, for a pre-trial hearing on June 15, and for jury trial on June 25, all in Judge Andrea Thompson’s 416th District Court.

The fifth criminal case pending against Martin, according to Collin County’s online records, is a probation revocation linked to a third degree felony DWI (third or more offense) charge from April 22, 2016. Records show Martin pleaded guilty on July 10, 2017, and was sentenced to probation. A motion to revoke probation was filed Feb. 14, 2014.

Civil lawsuit judgment
Randy and Kristy Pitchford filed their civil lawsuit against Martin and JWM Designs LLC in the 362nd District Court in Denton County, Judge Bruce McFarling presiding, charging Martin with breach of contract, fraud and violations of the Texas Theft Liability Act.

McFarling awarded the Pitchfords “actual damages on those claims in the amount of $1,464,918.80,” and “additional damages against Martin for violations of the Texas Theft Liability Act … for a total actual damages award … in the amount of $1,474,918.80.”

In addition, McFarling awarded “in their claims against JWM for suit on check and breach of contract” another $598,000, plus $27,500 in attorney’s fees.