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Press Release

Central Georgia Bookkeeper Sentenced for Defrauding Three Small Businesses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia

MACON, Ga. – A Putnam County, Georgia, resident who admitted to stealing $156,734.76 from three small businesses that employed her as a part-time bookkeeper was sentenced to prison for her crime and ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

Alicia Merritt, 48, of Eatonton, Georgia, was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison to be followed by four years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Tilman E. “Tripp” Self, III today after previously pleading guilty to one count of bank fraud. In addition, Merritt was ordered to repay $146,660.66 in restitution to the victims. There is no parole in the federal system.

“The defendant has admitted her wrong-doing and has been held accountable for deceiving three local businesses in her community,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Whether a trusted employee steals $100,000 or $1,000,000, fraud ultimately harms lives and can negatively affect a community, as seen in this case. Working with our law enforcement partners, we want to protect hard-working citizens and do everything in our power to stop fraud and restore justice.”

“Hopefully this sentencing makes a statement that the FBI is committed to making cases like this a strong deterrent to the temptation of greed,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Merritt not only defrauded the companies she worked for, she also violated the trust they put in her, and for that she will be held accountable.”

According to court documents, Merritt’s theft from Willow Oaks Landscape was first discovered by the company’s owner in Feb. 2020. Merritt worked as the bookkeeper for the family-owned business for a decade and the owner trusted her “completely,” delegating to her payroll, vendor payments, reimbursements and giving her credit card access. When the business began to lose money, the owner assumed there must be other causes and didn’t suspect Merritt. However, from March 2019 until Feb. 2020, Merritt wrote checks to vendors, to herself for reimbursements that did not exist and cut payroll checks for former employees and cashed them for herself in the amount of $108,068.45. In addition, within this same time frame, Merritt admitted to charging $5,382.90 on the company credit card for personal expenses.

Merritt was also employed part-time managing business finances for two local Eatonton businesses, The Meat Shed and Vape on the Lake. Merritt was tasked with handling business tax payments to the Georgia Department of Revenue and IRS for the businesses. In early 2019, Merritt constructed a scheme, convincing the owner that she could better manage his tax payments if he wrote her checks for the amount owed and she, in turn, would pay the tax to the relevant revenue agency. In late 2019, Merritt’s demands escalated, insisting the owner write multiple large payments to resolve alleged tax payment deadlines, keeping the money for herself and not paying the taxes owed. In all, Merritt stole at least $33,209.31 from these businesses.

The case was investigated by FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joy Odom prosecuted the case for the Government.

Updated July 12, 2022

Financial Fraud