It is a high-end embezzlement.
The US chief executive of a German sawblade maker has pleaded guilty to stealing $ 15 million from the company to fund a luxury clothing and furniture store she ran next door.
Donna Osowitt Steele, 52, of Taylorsville, North Carolina, had worked for Tigra USA since 1999, starting in the shipping department and becoming general manager. Prosecutors say that starting in 2013, Steele began looting the coffers of the HIckory-NC-based company, ultimately pocketing millions.
By writing corporate checks to herself and using corporate credit cards, Steele used $ 350,000 of the money to start a luxury clothing and furniture business called Opulence by Steele.
However, the guilty plea was not the first time Steele has been charged with embezzlement. In 1995, she pleaded guilty to stealing $ 500,000 over a six-month period from a family-owned sign company where she worked, according to the Hickory Daily Record. She spent nearly a year in state prison and was ordered to pay back the money.
She also had previous convictions of robbery and writing bad checks.
She was also accused of spending over $ 1 million on lavish travel, including $ 255,000 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and $ 155,000 at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Hawaii. She also spent $ 6,800 on a trip to see a Notre Dame-Virginia Tech football game.
Steele was charged with spending over $ 200,000 of company money to pay for a relative’s wedding, and $ 100,000 on cut flowers and $ 100,000 on Gucci clothes and bags.
Prosecutors also charged Steele with spending more than $ 500,000 on jewelry.
Steele pleaded guilty Wednesday in North Carolina federal court to wire fraud. She faces up to 20 years in prison. A message left with his lawyer was not immediately returned.
Covering his tracks
According to court documents, when credit card companies flagged the purchases as suspicious, Steele told them they had been cleared.
Due to its lavish spending, the company began to struggle to pay suppliers and cover its own salary expenses. Company employees also began to see denied charges on their company credit cards,
To further cover his tracks, prosecutors said Steele told employees the parent company in Germany was in financial trouble. She also told them to limit communications with their counterparts in Germany and hand over the passwords for all company systems to her.
Company officials in Germany eventually became suspicious and began to investigate and discovered big discrepancies in the company’s books. They then fired Steele and contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“We are delighted that justice is being served,” said Bernd Motzer, a family member who owns Tigra, who took over the presidency and direction of his US division after Steele’s sacking.