ALBANY, Ga. – The former bookkeeper of a Valdosta-based physical therapy business entered a guilty plea to two counts of bank fraud in federal court Tuesday, announced Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
Heather Nicole Gray, 32, of Norman Park, Ga., entered her guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Louis Sands. The charges each carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. Gray’s sentencing date has not been scheduled.
According to the stipulation of fact, Gray began doing financial work for Sutherland Physical Therapy, Inc. (SPT), in Valdosta, Ga., 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 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, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“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,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “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, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 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,” said 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 Agent in Charge, Albany, Georgia Resident Office, United States Secret Service.
The case was investigated by the United States Secret Service and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McCullers is prosecuting the case for the government.