VALDOSTA – A former South Georgia bookkeeper has pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges in federal court this week.
Heather Nicole Gray, 32, of Norman Park pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud in connection with incidents that happened at a Valdosta physical therapy business, according to the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia office.
She entered the plea in the Albany federal court of U.S. District Judge Louis Sands.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Gray’s sentencing date was not scheduled at the time of her plea this week.
Gray began doing financial work for the physical therapy business while an employee at an Adel consulting firm, according to court documents. In 2017, the physical therapy business hired her.
"In December 2014, Ms. Gray began to make automated clearinghouse payments via the internet and mobile access from two bank accounts belonging to (the company) without authorization, to pay off credits cards that she and her ex-husband used," according to the U.S. Attorney's office. "In August 2017, her scheme intensified when she began creating fraudulent checks without authorization, using ... bank accounts, payable to herself or her ex-husband."
Court records claim several methods were used to conceal these activities, "including removing pages of the monthly bank account statement that showed unauthorized checks written to her from the office and changing the 'payee' field in the QuickBooks system from her name to a named legitimate expense to hide the true payee, herself."
Federal investigators found 317 fraudulent payments. They were discovered in April 2018.
"In all, the fraud totaled $321,854, including $4,971.62 ... and $316,882.38," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
“Ms. Gray went to great lengths to avoid detection, carefully hiding her tracks so she could continue pilfering from a locally owned business, gravely betraying the owners’ trust,” said Charlie Peeler, U.S. attorney. “Our office is focused on protecting small businesses from theft and the banking system from nefarious individuals who commit fraud. I want to commend the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and the Secret Service for uncovering this crime and helping bring a measure of justice to the victims.”
“It is a bad situation when a person you trust takes advantage, and in this case, the defendant was both a friend and an employee of the victim," Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said. "I appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we can always count on them to find justice for the victim."
“Defendant Heather Gray used her position as a bookkeeper for a locally owned business in Valdosta, Ga., to steal over $321,000 from her employer. Ms. Gray took advantage of those small business owners who provided her a job and betrayed those who gave her a position of trust within their company,” said Clint A. Bush, resident agent in charge, Albany resident office, United States Secret Service.