Former NC CEO pleads guilty to embezzling $15M from company, FBI says

North Carolina news

(file/MGN photo)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WNCN) – A 52-year-old North Carolina woman, and former CEO, used an extensive scheme over seven years to embezzle $15 million from her employer, the FBI announced Thursday.

Donna Osowitt Steele of Taylorsville appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to wire fraud.

Court documents show Steele began her scheme to defraud her employer in January 2013.

Her employer was identified as “Victim Company” in the plea agreement and described as a privately held U.S.-based subsidiary of a foreign company that manufactures carbide products.

Carbide is defined as any class of chemical compounds in which carbon is combined with a metallic or semimetallic element. It is used to make things such as cleats and ski poles.

Steele began working for the company in 1999 in the shipping department.

She was promoted over the years and made her way up to CEO, the FBI said.

Steele held that position until she was fired in Jan. 2020.

Court documents show Steele embezzled funds in a number of ways, including company credit card purchases, company checks, Quickbooks transactions and wire transfers.

Filed court documents said Steele used company credit cards to pay for $6 million in personal expenditures, including to make high-end retail store purchases, to pay for luxury hotel accommodations and event ticket purchases, to buy expensive jewelry, to pay for family weddings and to make purchases related to Opulence by Steele, a luxury clothing and boutique company the defendant founded in 2013.

Steele’s action led to problems for the company such as customers complaining about being placed on credit holds, notwithstanding timely payments of their bills, employees having their company credit cards declined when they were trying to use them for legitimate business expenses and employees not being paid on time, federal court documents say.

She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

She is out on bond. A sentencing date has not been set.

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