The longtime accounting manager of a Gainesville transmission plant was found guilty Friday in an embezzlement scheme exceeding half a million dollars.
Former ZF Industries bookkeeper Charlotte Jo Baghose, 67, faces one to 10 years in prison on each of 25 felony counts of forgery and one count of theft by taking. A Hall County Superior Court jury spent about five hours deliberating the case before finding Baghose guilty of all but four counts of forgery.
Baghose, who was free on bond pending trial, was taken into custody by sheriff’s officials after the verdict. Sentencing was deferred to a later date.
A September 2007 company audit prompted by the suspicions of a co-worker uncovered 450 questionable checks totaling more than $650,000 in fraudulent expenses, according to court testimony. The forged checks went back as far as 2003.
During the weeklong trial, jurors heard from several company employees and viewed scores of financial documents.
At least one witness testified Baghose was shown on a Wachovia bank video cashing a forged check at the main Gainesville branch on Jesse Jewell Parkway. Baghose, a ZF Industries employee for 20 years, kept the key to the company’s check-printing machine and reconciled the books at the end of the month, according to court testimony.
"There’s not one thing that points to the defendant’s guilt, not two things, not three things," Assistant District Attorney Juliet Aldridge told the jury in her closing argument Friday. "I’d say there’s probably at least 100 things that point to her guilt."
Baghose testified in her defense and acknowledged purchasing large amounts of mail-order goods from the QVC home shopping network. She claimed frequent deposits to her personal bank account were from an inheritance.
But Aldridge pointed out to the jury that those deposits ended immediately after Baghose was fired.
"Her source, her illicit funds, ran out after she no longer had access to the finance department of ZF Industries," Aldridge said.
Baghose earlier this week tried to avoid a trial by claiming mental incompetency. A separate jury rejected her attorney’s contention that she was legally incompetent to stand trial due to dementia.
ZF Industries employs about 220 people at its Palmour Drive location. The plant manufactures automotive manual transmissions and axle drives and has annual sales in the tens of millions.
Aldridge acknowledged to the jury that financially, ZF "is on the plus side."
"But do they get bonuses anymore? No." Pointing to Baghose, Aldridge said, "She took their bonuses."
District Attorney Lee Darragh said after the verdict that he hoped others who would steal from their employers "would learn from Ms. Baghose’s experience. It doesn’t and shouldn’t pay."