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Cherryville finance director sentenced for embezzlement

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

The City of Cherryville’s former finance director will spend two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $400,000 in city funds over a six-year period, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western district of North Carolina.

A federal judge sentenced 59-year-old Bonny Verley Alexander on Friday, ordering her to 24 months behind bars followed by an equal time period of supervised release.

Alexander, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to five counts of program embezzlement for misappropriating city funds, federal authorities said, served as finance director for the City of Cherryville from 2005 through 2011, when she retired.

Over the six-year period, she stole city funds to “pay for personal expenses” including shopping and travel expenditures, a U.S. Attorney’s Office press release said.

Not only did she take an amount each week worth more than 300 percent of her actual salary but she also used American Express credit cards to pay for her private spending ventures.

The amount totaled just under $310,000, according to federal authorities.

Alexander’s responsibilities required adjusting the city’s electronic accounting systems, when authorized, presiding over employee payroll processing, issuing checks in the city’s name and handling payments for city expenses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

In order to cover her credit card debt, she forged 26 city checks in the name of the account’s authorized signatory, who was another Cherryville employee, federal authorities said.

The checks, written to American Express, totaled nearly $100,000.

After the bank cleared and returned the checks, Alexander eradicated them from city records to hide her criminal deeds, the release said.

In addition to prison time, which she must serve without the possibility of parole, she has been ordered to pay $435,294.17 in restitution.

A second former employee with the City of Cherryville will be sentenced later this month for similar crimes, according to Public Information Officer Lisa Bantavani with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Jennifer Neal Hoyle, 35, admitted to stealing $92,922 in city utility payments from January 2008 through May 2011, federal authorities said.

She also pleaded guilty last year but to three counts of program fraud.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Hoyle worked under Alexander’s supervision as the city’s former senior customer service representative and utility supervisor and used her “supervisory overriding privileges” to delete utility customers’ payments from her computer after crediting their accounts.

After issuing paper receipts, she pocketed customers’ payments and covered her tracks by writing off the individuals’ cash amounts in an “extra charge” journal she kept so the city wouldn’t bill them again.

She was fired in 2012, however, after forgetting to write off one of the payments, prompting a customer to visit the city office about duplicate account charges, federal authorities said.

The individual additionally brought the paper receipt the city had administered.

In 2012, Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell ordered the FBI and SBI to investigate the misuse of Cherryville funds.

City officials said they had been noticing financial irregularities since 2011.

Hoyle’s sentencing hearing is set for March 20, Bantavani said.

The prosecution in each case has been headed by U.S. Attorney Michael Savage, of Charlotte.

 

 

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