A Forsyth County woman who stole more than $500,000 from a former employer pleaded guilty to theft charges on Wednesday.
Linda Marie Michaels, 47, will serve three years in jail and the remainder of her 40-year sentence on probation, according to her negotiated plea.
Michaels must also pay back about $346,000 in restitution for the money she had taken since 2009.
The total missing was about $530,000 since 2006, but anything outside of the statute of limitations couldn’t be included in the indictment, said Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Scalia.
Michaels said she worked for 10 years as the office manager at Pro Air Systems in northeast Forsyth.
She was arrested in November 2011 following a Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office investigation.
The business owner notified authorities at the end of August of that year that he suspected Michaels had been stealing from the company.
Scalia suspected the business may not have noticed the loss while the economy was good, but as things started to head downhill, the missing money made a bigger impact.
“The company went under as a result of this,” she said.
Michaels said she’d been writing checks to herself and then entering the amounts into the books as money paid to vendors.
Her salary from the company, she said, was $42,000 a year.
Once Michaels was caught, Scalia said it was pretty easy to “follow the paper trail” of checks with her name on them.
Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bagley said it “boggles the mind” to think that someone would enjoy “probably a pretty lavish lifestyle at the expense of someone else.”
“There’s got to be a character flaw there, to steal from people that extensively and that long without any remorse for what you’re doing,” Bagley said,
He allowed the sentence to be served under the First Offender Act, which means Michaels can have the crime struck from her record upon completion and keep the disposition of the case off her record throughout probation.
Michaels’ attorney, Logan Butler, said it would be difficult for her to find employment to pay back the money she stole with the felony conviction clearly stated on her record.
However, her criminal history report will still show that she’s committed a crime, which she would have to explain to potential employers, said Butler, adding that “the protection is there.”
Michaels had been working as a bookkeeper for a company until the day before her plea, Butler said.
That employer knew of her prior arrest and the circumstances, he said, yet still hired her and provided character letters in her support.
Her probation sentence is several years to allow time to pay back the money, Butler said.
Bagley required that she’d have to pay at a minimum rate of $500 per month during her probation, and that still wouldn’t meet the total.
However, as a condition of allowing first offender, Michaels must return all the money before the crime can be discharged or in the case of an early termination request.
Also, Michaels must pay a $2,000 fine and complete 120 hours of community service while on probation.