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New York woman pleads guilty to embezzling $4.1 million

On March 28, a New York woman pleaded guilty to embezzling $4.1 million from her employer. Officials from the Erie County District Attorney's Office said it is one of the largest individual embezzlement cases prosecutors can recall handling.

The defendant, a 55-year-old East Aurora resident, began working as a comptroller at Towne Automotive Group in 2001. According to media reports, she wrote unauthorized checks from her employer's accounts and illegally transferred money into her personal bank accounts. Investigators were able to prove she misappropriated $4.1 million, but prosecutors say bank records only went back to May 2009, so she may have stolen a larger amount. Her scheme was uncovered in November 2016 when a business called Towne Automotive to discuss a $125,000 check it had received. The defendant was on vacation, so another employee looked at the books, discovering the fraudulent activity.

The defendant reportedly used the money to support her dressage horse hobby, play online video games and make personal purchases. She pleaded guilty to first-degree grand larceny and criminal tax fraud. As part of a plea deal, she agreed to repay $4.1 million to Towne Automotive and $256,307 in New York income taxes. She is scheduled to be sentenced on June 13. Mandatory sentencing requires a minimum of one to three years in jail, but she could be sentenced to up to 25 years behind bars.

Individuals charged with embezzlement may face harsh penalties, including significant prison time and steep fines. However, every defendant is innocent until proven guilty and has the right to fight the allegations with the help of a criminal defense attorney. One avenue could be to assert that there was no specific intent to deprive the owner of the property, which is a required element of the crime.

Source: Buffalo News, "Ex-comptroller of Towne Auto pleads guilty to $4.1 million embezzlement," Melinda Miller, March 28, 2017

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