Dianne Ray was nearly speechless Thursday when asked by a judge how she spent half a million dollars she embezzled from her employer of 26 years.
Ray, 50, was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty in Hall County Superior Court to two counts of felony theft by taking and 27 counts of felony theft by deception. The thefts occurred over a nine-year span at Gastroenterology Associates of Gainesville and Gainesville Endoscopy Center, where she worked as an office manager.
Judge Bonnie Chessher Oliver also ordered Ray to serve 33 years of probation and to pay restitution of $512,000. District Attorney Lee Darragh had asked for a prison sentence of 12 years.
According to evidence presented in court, Ray was the first employee hired by Dr. Steve Moore in 1981. In 2007, another employee in the office noticed that bank cash deposits were small compared with what the office was taking in.
A private investigator later determined that Ray had stolen more than $300,000 in cash over a nine-year span and pocketed another $200,000-plus by having doctors sign checks that she then made out to herself.
At the time of her firing, Ray earned a salary of $80,000 a year, received Christmas bonuses and had taken company-paid trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas.
"Apparently this was not enough for her," Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bagwell said.
Ray’s lawyer, former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, told the judge that the only assets his client had remaining for restitution was a 401(k) fund that contained about $200,000 and a diamond ring worth about $20,000.
"That’s all she’s got," Bowers said.
Oliver got few answers when she quizzed Ray on where all the money went.
"I can’t say," Ray said. "I don’t know."
"Did you buy gifts for your children?" Oliver said.
Ray shook her head.
"Did you have a house full of shoes?" Oliver asked.
"No, ma’am," Ray replied.
"What was the motive for taking the money?" the judge asked.
"Greed, I guess," Ray replied.
Darragh said Ray’s home on Jess Helton Road underwent significant renovations, including the addition of hardwood floors, a remodeled kitchen with granite counters, a swimming pool, tanning bed and exercise room. Ray allegedly told co-workers that the home would be paid off soon and that she wouldn’t take less than $400,000 for it, Darragh said.
Bagwell said soon after the thefts were discovered in late 2007, Ray transferred the title of the home to her husband, Jackie Ray, who took out a $188,000 line of credit on the house. In December 2007, Ray made out a check to herself for $6,000 and went gambling in Cherokee, N.C., the next day, Bagwell said.
"We suspect a lot of this money was used to gamble," Bagwell said.
Ray denied under questioning from the judge she had a gambling problem.
Several members of Ray’s family looked on from the courtroom gallery. Her victims, including Moore and several of his associates, also attended the hearing.
Moore told the judge that Ray’s actions caused other problems for his office, which was stuck with loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars she took out to cover office costs and a reputation among vendors as an business that didn’t pay its bills on time.
Moore said the business will recover from much of what its longtime employee did, but "what we probably won’t recover from is the sense of betrayal from someone we considered a loyal and trusted employee."