As Cherryville’s finance director Bonny Alexander embezzled more than $435,000 in city funds from 2005 through 2011, she spent the taxpayer money on cars, travel and a beach house, a federal prosecutor said Friday.
Alexander, 59, showed no emotion as U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad Jr. sentenced her to 24 months in prison followed by two years of supervised released. She was ordered to make restitution of $435,294.17.
Alexander declined her opportunity to address the judge.
But Cherryville officials spoke during the court session and said the former finance director’s actions seriously hurt the city.
Newly elected Mayor H.L. Beam said Alexander squandered residents’ “hard-earned tax dollars” on “exotic international vacations, jewelry and plastic surgery.”
“We were within one month of collapse and being insolvent,” Beam said.
He said that after Alexander was charged she continued to show herself around town, calling the appearances “a slap in the face.”
The embezzlement charges were part of a scandal that shook Cherryville in 2012. Six men were charged in a scheme authorities said involved offers of protection to trucks carrying stolen goods and cash. Four of the men had ties to law enforcement. All six pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to prison terms.
Three city employees, including the former police chief, were charged with embezzlement. All have pleaded guilty, and Alexander was the first to be sentenced.
Alexander, who had earlier pleaded guilty to five counts of program embezzlement, was ordered to self-report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving her sentence upon designation of a federal facility. As she left the courthouse Friday with family and friends, she declined to comment.
During the hearing, Alexander’s attorney, Sonya Pfeiffer called her client a “broken woman.”
“She understands her actions violated trust and caused harm to the city of Cherryville,” Pfeiffer said.
Describing Alexander’s involvement in the community over the years, Pfeiffer said the former finance director had been a member of Cherryville First Baptist Church since 1975 and was known as “the go-to volunteer.”
Alexander was also a board member on the Cherryville Area Ministries and a participant in Relay for Life events.
Even with a giving person such as Alexander “there can be flat-out stupidity” and horrible decisions, Pfeiffer said.
Since the scandal, Alexander has been punished on a daily basis, Pfeiffer said. As Alexander walks Cherryville streets she sees the dismay on peoples’ faces and knows she “has betrayed their trust,” Pfeiffer said. “She has to face the reality of her actions every day.”
Alexander was prepared for a prison sentence and “the public disdain that will follow her all her life,” Pfeiffer said.
Michael Savage with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte said Alexander’s actions were motivated by greed.
An FBI analysis of where some of the embezzled money went traced $5,900 in donations to charities.
“The bulk went to her benefit,” Savage said. “She flat-out spent it on herself.”
While Cherryville lost manufacturing jobs and people struggled to pay taxes, Alexander “was stealing $435,000 from her friends, neighbors and parishioners,” Savage said.
Cherryville City Council member Brian Dalton said Cherryville had a population of 5,804 in 2012 and Alexander’s “criminal act affected 5,803 in a negative manner.”
Consequences included higher utility rates and the city’s inability to update aging infrastructure.
Although the city nearly went bankrupt because of the embezzlement, Dalton said Cherryville is on the way to recovery.
After the sentencing, Beam said he was pleased with the order for full restitution, which includes the city getting the $2,350 monthly payments from Alexander’s state pension. Restitution must also be paid to the city’s insurance carriers, he said.
Asked whether Alexander’s sentence was adequate, Beam responded, “You have to believe in the court system.”
“Two years isn’t bad,” he said. “Some citizens will be elated, some will be sad.”
Although he didn’t know Alexander’s feelings, “I wish her well,” Beam said. “The main thing is to heal. I hope this is a new start to Cherryville.”