Gastonia woman pleads guilty to stealing from employer

A Gastonia woman pleaded guilty Friday to stealing more than $500,000 from her employer, a Charlotte company that builds and repairs tennis courts and running tracks.

Jennifer Ann Champagne, 39, pleaded guilty in federal court to making and possessing forged and counterfeit securities, wire fraud and access device fraud, Acting U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said.

Champagne worked for Carolina Courtworks from 2006 to 2013 as office manager and bookkeeper and had access to its safe, computer accounting programs, online bank accounts, security passwords and other confidential information, according to court records.

She did not have access to and was not authorized to sign company checks or to use the company’s bank accounts and credit card accounts outside of the normal course of business, prosecutors said.

Court records show Champagne embezzled money by signing the name of the company’s president on forged checks and then altering the company’s books and records to hide the theft.

For example, according to court records, Champagne embezzled more than $260,000 by forging 100 company checks in her name and her husband’s landscaping business.

Champagne also used the company’s credit card to make more than 400 unauthorized charges totaling about $40,000.

She also authorized bank transfers from the company’s bank accounts to her bank accounts, and issued a company credit in her name, which she used to make 70 unauthorized charges, prosecutors said.

Overall, Champagne’s scheme caused the company to lose about $540,000, records show.

Champagne was released on bail after her plea hearing. She faces up to 45 years in prison.

As part of her plea agreement, Champagne has agreed to pay restitution to be determined by a judge at sentencing. Her sentencing date hasn’t been set.

Marusak: 704-358-5067;

Twitter: @jmarusak