Former Customs Employee Pleads Guilty To Auctioning Online A Customs Declaration Form Signed By A Celebrity
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A Gaston County woman appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer today and pleaded guilty to stealing more than $500,000 from her employer, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Jennifer Ann Champagne, 39, of Gastonia, N.C. pleaded guilty making and possessing forged and counterfeit securities, wire fraud and access device fraud.
Acting U.S. Attorney Rose is joined in making today’s announcement by Felica R. Rude, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Charlotte.
According to charging documents and today’s court proceedings, from 2006 to 2013, Champagne was employed by a Charlotte-based company specializing in the construction and repair of tennis courts and running tracks. Champagne was the company’s office manager and bookkeeper, and had access to the company’s safe, computer accounting programs, online bank accounts, security passwords and other confidential information. According to court records, Champagne did not have access to and was not authorized to sign company checks, or use the company’s bank accounts or credit card accounts outside of the normal course of business.
Court records show that Champagne exploited her position as office manager and embezzled money from her employer by signing the company’s President’s name on forged checks and then altered the company’s books and records to hide the theft. For example, according to court records, Champagne embezzled more than $260,000 by forging 100 company checks in her name and her husband’s landscaping business. Champagne also used the company’s credit card to make more than 400 unauthorized charges totaling over $40,000. Court records indicate that Champagne also made authorized bank transfers from the company’s bank accounts to her bank accounts, and issued a company credit in her name, which she used to make 170 unauthorized charges. Overall, court records show that Champagne’s scheme caused the company a loss of over $540,000.
Champagne was released on bond after her plea hearing. The making and possessing forged and counterfeit securities charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. The wire fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. The access device fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 15 years and a $250 fine. As part of her plea agreement, Champagne has agreed to pay restitution, the amount of which will be determined by the Court at sentencing. A sentencing date for the defendant has not been set yet.
The investigation was handled by the U.S. Secret Service. The prosecution for the government is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.