GRAHAM — The defendant didn't even have much of a history of traffic offenses let alone felony convictions, which is a big part of the reason she got away with 10 years in prison.
It could have been less time if she still had some of the $601,000 she stole from her former employers.
"I have a suspicion that she has some money hidden away," Superior Court Judge Tom Lambeth said. "Maybe she made the calculation that 'I'll do the time and have a nest egg' — probably not."
Angelia Louise Vaughan, 48, of 3897 Filton Drive, Greensboro, pleaded guilty Monday, June 10, to multiple counts of obtaining property by false pretense of $100,000 or more and felony accessing computers.
Between 2015 and 2018, Vaughan used her position handling payroll at Front Edge Marketing to change her pay in QuickBooks after her bosses, Jerry Stewart and Charles "Chase" Brooks, approved the expenses from $18 per hour to as much as $97 per hour, said Assistant District Attorney Jaqueline Perez, and then changed the entries back after the altered payroll information had been sent to the bank and she had received her augmented pay checks.
"So this was a three-step process she was going through every week to steal from us," Stewart testified in court.
The scheme got past an IRS audit of the company and its payroll, Stewart said, and more than one accountant Stewart and Brooks hired to figure out why they were losing money.
"We shouldn't have been burning through all the money the company had made," Stewart said.
Vaughan tearfully apologized to her old bosses and her family, telling the court that she was going through a separation from her husband at the time and felt like she needed to provide a comfortable life for her daughters. Now she will miss her youngest graduate from high school.
"I thought I needed to make my family comfortable through money," Vaughan said.
"If I had that money, I would truly give it back to you."
Vaughan is maintaining that she does not have any of that money left. She was even represented by an appointed lawyer as an indigent. Brooks, however, speculated that she could have put it into cryptocurrency, which is one of the things she learned about working for his company.
Front Edge Marketing was a payroll company for Brooks' and Stewart's other companies, Stewart testified. Stewart is listed as the manager of JBS Properties LLC and JMS Investments LLC, and both are listed as mangers of a dissolved company called CAB Technologies, according to the N.C. Secretary of State's Office website.
Vaughan convinced Stewart to give up a costly payroll service and instead set her up with the QuickBooks payroll module so she could handle it in house, according to Stewart's testimony.
"I truly believe she had this plan all along," Stewart said. "The company she worked with before us went bankrupt — do the math."
Eventually, Stewart said, he hired an accountant who came in one day unannounced and got copies of all the books. He later asked Stewart if he'd given Vaughan a bonus because her paycheck was more than $6,000.
From there Stewart contacted Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, which helped unpack what was going on in the payroll system and compared that information to the company's bank drafts.
"There it was week after week after week, year after year of her stealing from us," Stewart said.
The partners and accountant confronted Vaughan with detectives of the Alamance County Sheriff's Office listening in the next room, and she admitted stealing from them. Weeks later after looking at hundreds of pages of records, the Sheriff's Office moved forward with prosecution.
The partners both testified to taking money from their other operations to cover their payroll company. Brooks said he borrowed money against land he owns, and they let many of their more than 20 employees go.
"When your money goes away, your people have to go," Stewart said.
Brooks said he lost the chance to get his wife expensive cancer treatment out of state in the hope of extending her life, which was something he'd talked to Vaughan about when she was working for the company.
The company is also in a debt, which is wasn't before, both partners testified, including to the IRS and to vendors Vaughan didn't pay while she was handling the company's books.
Both told Lambeth they wanted Vaughan to get a long prison sentence since she wouldn't ever be able to get the kind of job that could pay them back with this kind of felony record.
Lambeth said he had to balance a number of factors and gave her sentences adding up to at least 10 years and as much as 14 years – longer than some bank robbers, he said – to be followed by five years of supervised probation. Part of that probation is paying $200,000 in restitution and another $400,000 in restitution will be a civil judgement that will be over her head long after her sentence is served.
On the way out of the courtroom, one of the people with Brooks and Stewart stopped them and said they should watch Vaughan being led out in handcuffs, but she wasn't cuffed in the courtroom and her hands were by her sides while she walked out.
©2019 Times-News (Burlington, N.C.)
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