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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Chief U.S. District Judge Frank D. Whitney today sentenced Jennifer Ann Champagne, 40, of Gastonia, N.C. to 40 months in prison, for stealing more than $590,000 from her former employer, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Judge Whitney also ordered Champagne to serve one year of supervised release and to pay restitution in the amount of $594,208.01. Champagne pleaded guilty in July 2015 to making and possessing forged and counterfeit securities, wire fraud and access device fraud.
U.S. Attorney Rose is joined in making today’s announcement by Matthew Quinn, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Charlotte Field Division.
According to filed court documents and today’s sentencing hearing, from 2006 to 2013, Champagne worked as an office manager and bookkeeper at a Charlotte-based company specializing in the construction and repair of tennis courts and running tracks. In that capacity, Champagne had access to the company’s safe, computer accounting programs, online bank accounts, security passwords and other confidential information, but 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.
According to court records, Champagne stole money from her former employer by signing the company’s President’s name on forged checks and then altering the company’s books and records to hide the theft. Among other things, court records show that Champagne embezzled over $260,000 by forging 100 company checks in her name and her husband’s landscaping business. She also used the company’s credit card to make more than 400 unauthorized charges totaling over $40,000. In total, court records show that Champagne’s scheme caused the company a loss of more than $590,000.
In handing down Champagne’s sentence, Judge Whitney said that in the interest of general deterrence he gave the defendant a tough sentence because he did not want “people taking the risk of embezzling over one-half million dollars and thinking they’re only going to do a small amount of time in prison.” Judge Whitney also noted that that a sentence involving breach of trust should reflect the amount of money taken and the length of time involved in the fraudulent scheme, in Champagne’s case, seven years.
Champagne will be ordered to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility. All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.
The investigation was handled by the U.S. Secret Service. The prosecution for the government was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.