NC company CEO embezzles $ 15 million, says federal government

The former CEO of a North Carolina manufacturer embezzled more than $ 15 million to fund “an extravagant lifestyle” that included $ 500,000 in jewelry purchases and expensive hotel stays in New York and d ‘Hawaii, federal prosecutors have alleged in court documents.

Taylorsville resident Donna Osowitt Steele also illegally spent $ 1 million on travel, $ 200,000 on family weddings, $ 100,000 on flowers and $ 100,000 on Gucci purchases, prosecutors said in documents filed Friday before the Statesville United States District Court.

Osowitt declined to comment when she was reached on her cell phone on Saturday. She referred the Observer to her lawyer but hung up before saying who represents her. Court records do not say so.

Osowitt worked at Tigra United States Inc. in Hickory, CEO / Chairman Bernd Motzer confirmed on Saturday. “Currently our only comment on former employee Donna Steele is: We are happy that justice is being served,” Motzer said in an email.

Steele worked at her old company for more than two decades, from 1999 until she was fired last year, court records show without identifying the company. She was appointed CEO around 2015.

Tigra manufactures equipment for the metalworking and woodworking industries.

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Former CEO of North Carolina manufacturer embezzled $ 15 million to fund “an extravagant lifestyle” that included high-end makeup purchases, expensive New York hotel stays and $ 500,000 in jewelry, according to federal prosecutors in court documents. David T. Foster III PHOTO FILE

What would the money have been spent on

In total, authorities say, Steele spent more than $ 1 million on travel for herself, her family and friends, and more than $ 1 million on entertainment-related expenses.

She spent $ 255,000 on stays for herself, her family members and friends at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and $ 110,000 at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Hawaii, according to prosecutors.

Nearly $ 7,000 in embezzled funds paid for a trip to a Notre Dame-Virginia Tech football game, court documents show.

Of the $ 500,000 spent on jewelry, $ 455,000 was charged to credit cards for jewelry exchange purchases, authorities said.

Steele also billed Carolina Wedding about $ 197,000 for family members’ wedding expenses, authorities said in court documents.

Other purchases included $ 2,000 from luxury clothier Ted Baker and $ 1,800 from cosmetics retailer Sephora in New York City, prosecutors said.

How did the alleged scheme go?

Steele used four types of financial transactions to carry out what prosecutors allege in court documents as a “embezzlement scheme”: purchases of personal credit cards over corporate cards; checks; Quickbooks transactions; and bank transfers.

She opened bank accounts and credit cards in her unsuspecting business name and limited communication between employees and business owners, prosecutors have said in court documents. Steele also told employees that “the owners were to be feared and they should be afraid to communicate with them and / or should be careful with them,” according to a court file.

Prosecutors said Steele falsely told workers the company was in financial trouble because its parent company was taking money from its accounts. She forced employees to give her their passwords for all company systems, including email, so she could monitor and access their accounts, court records show.

And Steele used his position to respond to credit card companies when they reported questionable purchases, court documents show. “Yes, they are okay and approved – thank you! She would reply, as court records show.

Steele faces a charge of embezzlement, according to a briefing note filed against her. Information invoices are typically filed when a defendant is working on a plea arrangement with US prosecutors.

Steele is also accused of transferring $ 350,000 of embezzled funds to Opulence by Steele in Taylorsville, which federal officials have described in court documents as a high-end clothing and furniture store.

Impact on suppliers, employees

Due to Steele’s actions, prosecutors said, suppliers have withheld products from the company due to delay or non-payment, and customers have complained that they have been put on hold. credit despite paying what they owed on time.

Employees were not paid on time, their insurance was canceled “without warning” and their company cards were refused when they made legitimate purchases, court records show.

Steele faces a forfeiture judgment of nearly $ 16.9 million, prosecutors said in court documents.

Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989, covering the region’s population, municipalities and major current events, and was the editor of the newspaper’s press office. He is currently reporting the latest news.

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