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Gainesville woman pleads guilty in embezzlement case
Bookkeeper stole $600k from Buford firm, fourth such case in a year
Michelle Sanchez

A Gainesville woman was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling $600,000 from a Buford company whose owners said they treated her like a daughter.

Friday’s guilty plea by Michelle Sanchez was the fourth time since December that a Hall County woman pleaded guilty or was convicted of stealing at least a half-million dollars from an employer.

Sanchez, 36, was a bookkeeper of nine years for real estate developer The Jay Bullock Cos. She used the stolen money to buy a Jaguar, a Cadillac Escalade and at least $13,000 in landscaping at her home, said Susan Bullock, wife of Jay Bullock.

Sanchez spent another $40,000 installing a swimming pool at her home in the Georgian Acres subdivision, paid her husband’s framing business $189,000 and ran up $194,000 in American Express charges from mail-order purchases, according to Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Taylor.

Superior Court Judge Melodie Conner sentenced Sanchez to 40 years, with the first four years in prison and the remainder on probation, Taylor said. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of six years in prison in the non-negotiated guilty plea.

Conner also ordered Sanchez to pay the Bullocks $510,000 in restitution in amounts of at least $1,000 per month after her release. About $100,000 previously was recovered by the couple in the sale of Sanchez’s home.

Susan Bullock said the thefts were "crushing" for their business and personally heartbreaking.

The couple hired Sanchez, whose parents had died, soon after her graduation from Brenau University and took her on trips to New York City and Tampa. Their company built her first two homes.

"She was like a daughter to us," Bullock said. "It was a huge betrayal. Huge."

Bullock said she hopes other small business owners can learn from their misfortune. Sanchez worked for the Bullocks for nine years and began stealing from them in 2005.

"It’s just a different mindset that I didn’t know existed," Bullock said. "I’m well aware of it now."

Bullock said she saw the similarities in her case and other recent embezzlements.

"I think they all were trusted, and once they start to embezzle, they become a better employee than ever before, because they can’t afford to lose their job or they’ll be found out," she said. "That’s the part they have to keep up — they have to have the trust."

The thefts were discovered when a bank mistakenly sent a financial statement to the Bullocks’ home instead of their business.

Earlier this month former ZF Industries accounting manager Charlotte Baghose was convicted of stealing about $600,000 from the company. Sentencing for Baghose, 67, is set for Sept. 18.

In December, Dianne Ray, 50, was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing $512,000 from her employer of 26 years, Gastroenterology Associates of Gainesville.

In April, 44-year-old Peggy Leigh Walker of Clermont was sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzling $1.2 million from Gwinnett County toolmaker Makita USA.

Bullock praised the work of prosecutors and said she felt the four-year prison sentence was "fair and appropriate."

"It’s a tough crime to endure, it’s a tough crime to prosecute and it’s a tough crime to sentence," Bullock said.

"We just hope that maybe after serving her sentence she’ll become the person we always thought she was," Bullock said.

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