The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri announced on Jan. 5 that a 69-year-old woman has been sentenced to almost four years in a federal prison for stealing more than $600,000 from a trust that distributed funds to charities in the St. Louis area. The woman’s sentence was handed down as part of a plea agreement she entered into in July 2021. The woman pleaded guilty to a single felony count of money laundering and three felony counts of mail fraud. If she had been found guilty by a jury, she could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison on each count.
The woman committed her crimes between 2013 and 2018 when she was employed as a bookkeeper by a Missouri accounting firm. Special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and members of an anti-money laundering team from Montgomery Bank assigned to the case discovered that she wrote several checks to herself and then concealed her actions by manipulating her employer’s financial records. She is said to have listed the transactions as payments made to a vendor and one of the trustees.
U.S. attorneys say the woman used the money she embezzled to pay her personal expenses and fund her lifestyle. The items she is said to have purchased include a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and a Keystone Hornet travel trailer. An FBI representative told reporters that the paper trail the woman left behind made her discovery and prosecution inevitable, and he added that her white-collar crimes had deprived 12 St. Louis charitable organizations of much-needed funds.
Plea agreements in white-collar crime cases
Cases like this one are rarely decided in court because the evidence gathered by law enforcement is usually made up of financial statements and accounting records that tell a compelling story. However, this case reveals that federal prosecutors may be willing to recommend lenient sentences in cases involving fraud, embezzlement and money laundering even when they have strong evidence and a defendant who is unlikely to elicit much sympathy from a jury.