Woman sentenced for $300,000 Lowndes fraud case

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VALDOSTA — A Colquitt County woman was ordered earlier this week to pay thousands in restitution and sentenced to serve more than three years in prison for defrauding her former employer in Lowndes County.

Heather Nicole Gray, 33, of Norman Park was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Louis Sands to 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of bank fraud in September 2019. Sands ordered Gray to pay $321,000 in restitution. There is no parole in the federal system.

Gray began doing financial work for a Valdosta physical therapy office in September 2014 as an employee of an Adel Consulting service, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. In her capacity as bookkeeper, Gray had access to the financials for a subsidiary service of the physical therapy office.

Gray was hired directly by the business three years later in September 2017. Shortly after beginning the job in December 2014, she began making payments via the Internet and mobile access from two bank accounts belonging to the business without authorization to pay off credits cards she and her ex-husband used, the statement said.

In August 2017, Gray began creating fraudulent checks without authorization, using business bank accounts, payable to herself or her ex-husband, the Justice Department said.

On one occasion, the suspect reportedly wrote herself a check for $3,000 and wrote “Merry Christmas” in the memo line to make the check look like a Christmas bonus, Lowndes Couty Sheriff Ashley Paulk said in a previous interview.

He said Gray managed to get the attention of the Secret Service after the credit card company and a bank flagged her account for suspicious behavior.

“They thought it could be drug dealers,” Paulk said in 2018. “They were seeing a lot of expenses charged to the credit card followed by big payments, which is what you see typically with drug dealers. ... If you turn in $10,000 to a bank, you would be flagged.”

Gray was arrested June 20, 2018, in Tift County after failing to turn herself in to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office for the second time, Paulk said.

The case was investigated by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and the United States Secret Service.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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