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Press Release

Bookkeeper at Two West Loop Restaurants Sentenced to More Than Two Years in Federal Prison for Misappropriating More Than $600,000

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — A former bookkeeper for two restaurants in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago was sentenced today to more than two years in federal prison for misappropriating more than $600,000 from the eateries.

RENEE M. JOHNSON worked as a bookkeeper for One Off Hospitality LLC, which owns several bars and restaurants in Chicago, including the West Loop eateries Blackbird and Avec.  Johnson was a signatory on One Off’s bank accounts, and her duties included processing checks to vendors who provided food, labor and utilities to the restaurants.  Johnson wrote hundreds of unauthorized checks from One Off’s accounts to pay personal expenses, including credit cards and mortgages on real estate holdings in Chicago.  From 2011 to 2017, the scheme caused a loss of $604,113, mostly sustained by Blackbird and Avec.

Johnson, 61, of Chicago, pleaded guilty in July to one count of mail fraud.  In addition to a 28-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall ordered restitution of $604,113.

The sentence was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Renee Johnson cooked the books of her employer and stole over $600,000 for over six years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunil R. Harjani argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum.  “Johnson abused the trust and discretion that was given to her by One Off.”

According to the charges, Johnson made fraudulent entries in One Off’s accounting system to hide the theft.  She often made a check payable to a personal creditor, but deleted the entry in One Off’s system.  In some instances, Johnson cut a check to pay personal expenses, and then quickly cut a new check with the same check number to pay for a legitimate corporate expenditure.

Updated November 13, 2018

Financial Fraud