Lincoln County man sentenced to 11 years in prison for $17 million embezzlement

A Lincoln County man was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years and three months in prison for embezzling $17 million from clients of a Cornelius payroll company he operated with his father.

Prosecutors said James William Staz, 44, of Iron Station, used the stolen money to pay for a luxury vehicle, a mansion and trips to strip clubs.

Staz pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud, transactional money laundering and tax evasion. He has been in jail since his 2014 arrest.

His father, William James Staz, 72, of Huntersville, pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud and tax evasion charges. He has since died, prosecutors said.

The duo processed payroll, collected employment taxes and filed employment tax forms for more than 500 clients through their company Employee Services.Net, Inc. But court documents say the men, who had access to their clients’ bank accounts, illegally took millions to pay for a lavish lifestyle between 2008 and 2014.

To conceal the fraud, James Staz made false entries in ESN’s accounting system to make it appear as if the funds were used for legitimate client expenses, prosecutors said.

Instead, court document say, James Staz used the money to pay for alcohol, strip club entertainment, jewelry, a Mercedes Benz and a luxury mansion. William Staz drew a $200,000 salary from ESN at the same time he was serving a nine-month federal prison sentence.

James Staz “probably victimized more individuals and legal entities than any other fraud scheme this court has ever seen,” Chief U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney said at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

The 113 victims also included “nonprofits that operate on a very tight budget,” Whitney said.

“That kind of reckless disregard for spending people’s money is horrifying,” the judge added.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak