Woman pleads guilty to bilking local trucking company out of more than $475K

2019 file photo of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A local woman appeared in federal court for sentencing on federal wire and tax return fraud after she admittedly bilked a locally-owned trucking company of nearly half a million dollars during the three years she was employed as the company’s bookkeeper.

2019 file photo of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

During a hearing held via video feed at the U.S. District Court in St. George Monday, 46-year-old Danielle Apadaca-Roberts of St. George appeared on three federal charges, including one count of wire fraud and two counts of making and subscribing a false return. The defendant was represented by Wojceich Nitecki, Assistant Federal Public Defender, who was also present.

The hearing served as the arraignment and change of plea, in which Roberts entered a guilty plea to all three federal felony charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tyler L. Murray appeared for the government and stated that the maximum penalty for the wire fraud charge is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss, and forfeiture. For each of the two making a false statement on a tax return charges,  the maximum penalty is three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss, as well as forfeiture.

U.S. District Judge Paul Kohler went over the allegations as outlined in charging documents filed in federal court in April, at which point the defendant admitted each of the elements as described in the scheme.

The government alleges that the defendant devised a scheme to defraud a local trucking company where she worked as the payroll manager from approximately February 2016 to June 2019. Using interstate wire transmissions, the defendant admitted to devising a scheme to defraud the company and obtain money and property by means of “false and fraudulent pretenses,” federal documents state.  

The scheme involved obtaining money from her employer through false statements, misrepresentations and deception to divert the money for her own use by creating false expense reimbursements for truck drivers using the company’s accounting system. She did this by entering her own bank account information into the system as the destination account for the reimbursement payments rather than the money going into the truck drivers’ accounts. 

Moreover, she admitted to removing the computer-generated email notifications that would have alerted the truck drivers to the fraudulent reimbursements taking place, Kohler recounted from the record during the plea hearing.   

Roberts then created an automated clearing house account that contained both legitimate expense reimbursements, as well as reimbursements that were fraudulent, and provided the file to the bank for processing. 

Once completed, the file was used for interstate wire transmissions and payments for the false expense reimbursements, which were then transferred into Roberts’ personal bank account, as well as other accounts used “for her benefit,” the government alleges. 

The wire fraud charge stems from the defendant using the automated clearing account on March 2, 2018, to transfer $3,600 from one financial institution to an LLC account, which was used to pay rent for one of the defendant’s relatives, an allegation she admitted to in court.

The two felony counts of making and subscribing a false tax return involve the filing of false returns for both the 2017 and 2018 income tax years.

2019 file photo of interior of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

On the 2017 tax return, the defendant admittedly listed her position as bookkeeper and an annual income of $51,400, according to federal documents, but failed to report nearly $182,000 in income — money she admitted to taking from the company in court.

The following year, she again failed to accurately report her income, the record states, and while she listed the $50,400 as her reported income on the tax return, she failed to include more than $216,600 that she derived “from her scheme to defraud” the trucking company.  

Kohler also said that according to the charging documents filed in federal court, the defendant, all told, defrauded the trucking company out of more than $477,000 during the three-year period that she worked there. 

The court is asking that she be ordered to forfeit any proceeds, including any property derived from the proceeds that were part of the scheme to defraud the trucking company, to the court.

A sentencing hearing was scheduled to take place Sept. 23, however, Roberts’ defense counsel requested that sentencing take place in October, which Kohler said would have to be arranged with the courts. The judge also ordered a presentence report to be completed prior to sentencing.

The defendant was also given restrictions prior to sentencing, since she will remain out of custody until the hearing. As such, Kohler ordered the defendant to maintain employment or education until she is sentenced, and is not allowed to travel outside of Utah or change her residence without the court’s approval, nor is she allowed to apply for a passport.

“Importantly, you are not to be employed in any fiduciary capacity,” Kohler said. “Or in any position that allows any access to any credit or personal information of others.”

Court records also indicate that on Jan. 29, the defendant filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy petition in federal court, less than four months before the felony charges were filed by the government. The petition is still pending at this time.

There is no record of the defendant being processed through the jail. As such, no booking photo is available.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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