Former Valdosta bookkeeper pleads guilty in $300K business theft

Former Valdosta bookkeeper pleads guilty in $300K business theft

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - A former bookkeeper of a Valdosta physical therapy business pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud in federal court Wednesday, according to Charles Peeler, United States attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.

Heather Nicole Gray, 32, of Norman Park, entered a guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Louis Sands.

Each charge has a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

Gray’s sentencing date has not been set.

Heather Nicole Gray
Heather Nicole Gray (Source: Lowndes Co. Sheriff)

From the case’s stipulation of fact:

Gray began doing financial work for Sutherland Physical Therapy, Inc. (SPT), in Valdosta in September 2014 as an employee of Quick Consulting of Adel. In her capacity as bookkeeper, Gray also had access to the financials for Sutherland Yoga Studio, LLC (SYS). Gray was hired directly by SPT three years later, in September 2017. Very shortly after beginning work with SPT, in December 2014 Gray began to make automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments via the internet and mobile access from two bank accounts belonging to SPT without authorization, to pay-off credits cards that she and her ex-husband used.

In August 2017, her scheme intensified when she began creating fraudulent checks without authorization, using SPT bank accounts, payable to herself or her ex-husband. She used several methods to hide her scheme, including removing pages of the monthly bank account statement that showed unauthorized checks written to her from the office and changing the “payee” field in the QuickBooks system from her name to a named legitimate expense to hide the true payee, herself.

Gray made a total of 317 fraudulent payments, enriching herself or her ex-husband from SPT and SYS accounts until her fraud was discovered in April 2018.

In all, the fraud totaled $321,854, including $4,971.62 lost by SYS and $316,882.38 lost by SPT.

“Ms. Gray went to great lengths to avoid detection, carefully hiding her tracks so she could continue pilfering from a locally-owned business, gravely betraying the owners’ trust,” Peeler said. “Our office is focused on protecting small businesses from theft and the banking system from nefarious individuals who commit fraud. I want to commend the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and the Secret Service for uncovering this crime and helping bring a measure of justice to the victims.”

It is a bad situation when a person you trust takes advantage, and in this case, the defendant was both a friend and an employee of the victim. I appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we can always count on them to find justice for the victim,”
Ashley Paulk, Lowndes County sheriff

“Defendant Heather Gray used her position as a bookkeeper for a locally owned business in Valdosta, Georgia to steal over $321,000 from her employer. Ms. Gray took advantage of those small business owners who provided her a job and betrayed those who gave her a position of trust within their company. The United States Secret Service remains committed to working with our local law enforcement partners in protecting our nation’s financial security, to include aggressively investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for using the banking system to defraud the taxpayers and small businesses who provide the majority jobs in this nation,” said Clint A. Bush, resident in charge for the United States Secret Service Albany office.

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