Two former City of Cherryville employees agreed in federal court Tuesday to each plead guilty to using their positions to embezzle thousands of dollars apiece in city funds over at least the last three years, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in the state’s Western.
Bonney Verley Alexander, 58, the city’s former finance director, pleaded guilty to five counts of program embezzlement while Cherryville’s former Senior Customer Service Representative/Utility Supervisor Jennifer Neal Hoyle, 34, pleaded guilty to three counts of program fraud, an agency press release said. Hoyle was initially charged with 10 counts of embezzlement in July.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Alexander, who also supervised Hoyle’s duties, took more than $430,000 in city funds for personal use from August 2005 to December 2011, including more than $300,000 in weekly payroll payments to herself for shopping and travel expenses.
Alexander specifically forged 26 city checks, worth a total of nearly $100,000, and wrote them out to a personal credit card, federal authorities said. She then covered her tracks by removing the check numbers from city records after the bank cleared the funds.
The release also said that from January 2008 to May 2011 Hoyle embezzled more than $92,000 in utility payments from city customers by using her “supervisory overriding privileges” to delete the transactions from her computer after crediting the individuals’ accounts, giving them paper receipts and pocketing their money.
Furthermore, in order to ensure she wouldn’t get caught through customer complaints, federal authorities said Hoyle would “write off” each person’s cash amount in an “extra charge” journal she kept so the city wouldn’t later bill the individuals for the same amount of funds she had stolen.
However, after forgetting to record one customer’s payment amount as a “write off” in the journal, Hoyle was exposed and eventually terminated from her position in May 2012, the release said.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the customer brought her paper receipt to the city office to complain after her bill showed duplicate charges.
Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell ordered an investigation into the City of Cherryville nearly a year ago after two city officials were thought to be misusing city credit cards and payroll adjustments. Since December 2011, Cherryville had been experiencing financial irregularities, Mayor Bob Austell told the Times-News this past summer.
In addition to paying a $250,000 fine for each federal count filed against them, Alexander and Hoyle could each spend up to a decade in prison, federal authorities said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Bureau of Investigation looked into Alexander’s allegations while Gaston County Police Department aided the two other agencies in investigating Hoyle.
Michael Savage, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, served as lead prosecutor in the case.
The U.S. District Court is in charge of scheduling the women’s initial appearances and plea hearings, the release said.
Hoyle’s husband, Mark Ray Hoyle, may also be spending some time in federal prison after he and four other men, including a second Cherryville man, two Cherryville cops and one Gaston County Sheriff’s reserve officer, pleaded guilty earlier this month to their involvement in a multi-state operation that led them to safeguard stolen property and its proceeds.
Undercover FBI agents, posing as criminals, recruited the officers to participate in the scheme. The cops, in turn, recruited additional help, including Mark Ray Hoyle.
A sixth person in the separate federal case, Frankie Dellinger, has not admitted to wrongdoing. Dellinger also served as an officer with the City of Cherryville at the time of his alleged criminal behavior, federal authorities said.
All five men who’ve pleaded guilty in the incident have yet to be sentenced.