Former office manager gets nearly 5 years in prison for fraud

A bookkeeper who pleaded guilty to defrauding a small Indianapolis-area construction company out of hundreds of thousands of dollars has been sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison.

Erica Lee Howard, 42, of Indianapolis received a 58-month sentence after pleading guilty to wire fraud, United States Attorney Josh Minkler announced Thursday.

Investigators say Howard diverted more than $315,000 of her employer’s money for her own use while working as an office manager for Dukate Fine Remodeling in Franklin from January 2015 to May 2017.

Howard also must serve three years of supervised release after her prison sentence and make full restitution to the victim.

Starting in April 2015, court documents say, Howard accessed the company’s bank accounts and credit cards on “hundreds” of occasions for her personal benefit, including online rent payments, personal credit card payments and online and in-person purchases.

Howard altered the company’s financial records to cover up evidence of her actions, prosecutors say, but the company discovered what had happened after one its checks bounced.

Prosecutors say the company’s owners had to lay off employees and liquidate their retirement savings to keep the business afloat.
Howard has a 10-year-plus history of multiple convictions for fraud, forgery, and theft, Minkler said.

“Fraud on a small business often impacts much more than the bottom line,” Minkler said in written  comments.  “It can cost people good jobs, as it did here, and breeds distrust, especially when the fraud is perpetrated by a trusted employee. People who exploit a position of trust for purely personal gain will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

The FBI and Franklin Police Department investigated the case.

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