Embezzlement leads to 16 years in prison

An ex-clerk for a construction company in Chesapeake, Virginia, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison after an accounts payable audit revealed she embezzled more than $1 million from the business.

According to The Associated Press, Shelly Spencer pleaded guilty last year to 65 counts of embezzling money from her former employer, Higgerson-Buchanan. She had served as a clerk for the company for more than 23 years, but only began to steal funds in late 2004, states the news source.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the AP audit discovered Spencer wrote approximately 308 checks from the firm's account to herself, and then used the money to pay bills, purchase new vehicles and even travel to Atlantic City, New Jersey. The totals for each check were different, but they averaged $4,328, which came to approximately $20,000 per month and $240,000 each year. Spencer would create false entries in Higgerson-Buchanan's financial records, then covered her tracks with fraudulent invoices to make it look as though the checks were written to other businesses, says the newspaper.

The owner of the construction firm, Larry Higgerson, stated that the theft forced his company to raise prices unknowingly, which potentially could have resulted in lost contracts as prices were inflated. Spencer's attorneys said in court that their client was a good person and used some of the stolen money to help others. However, the judge decided to not grant any leniency when handing down her sentence, reports the news source.

The Virginian-Pilot earlier covered the story when Spencer entered her guilty plea in October 2011. According to court officials, the theft may be the biggest of its kind in Chesapeake history. The illegal activity was uncovered when the company's chief financial officer found discrepancies in Higgerson-Buchanan's finances and turned his findings over to local authorities.

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