CONCORD — A former employee of a Londonderry construction company will spend 27 months in federal prison for stealing as much at $200,000 from her employer.
Michelle Cote, 35, formerly of Manchester, committed fraud against Lamb's Construction Corp. and several credit card companies over a 13-month period in 2005 and 2006. She used the stolen money to buy furniture for her home, finance a family trip to Florida, and other things, according to prosecutors. She was an accounts payable clerk and administrative assistant.
Cote wrote checks from the Londonderry company's bank account to pay off her personal credit card debt and to open a credit card in the name of one of the company's owners, according to court documents. Along with prison time, Cote is required to pay restitution.
A part owner of the construction company noticed irregularities on expense reports in February 2006, and discovered 19 checks written by Cote for credit card payments on an account that did not belong to the company, according to an FBI affidavit. Those checks totaled more than $70,000.
After an FBI investigation, Cote pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and mail fraud in November. Her attorney, public defender Bjorn Lange, tried to keep his client out of jail. He sought five years of probation and one year of house detention, but no jail time, according to court documents.
Federal prosecutors requested low-end jail time for the offenses, in the range of 27 months to 33 months. The charges could have carried up to 20 years in prison.
In December 2006, Cote reached a civil settlement with the construction company owners for $166,000. Through March 2008, she had paid about $128,000 of that, but she has since been delinquent on payments, according to court documents. Her delinquency resulted in Vera and John Magruder, the former owners of Lamb's Construction, to lose their business of 31 years, prosecutors said.
"(Cote's) conduct ultimately cost (them their) business of 31 years and had a substantial adverse impact on their retirement planning," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Morse wrote.
During separate instances of alleged fraud, Cote lied to her brother in-law and mother-in-law about suffering from ovarian cancer in her efforts to obtain cash, prosecutors said in court documents.
Federal District Court Judge Joseph DiClerico rejected Cote's request for a lighter sentence and gave her 27 months in prison to begin on April 23.
During sentencing, DiClerico said Cote had a "dishonest bent" and a high risk of recidivism, according to a press release from the district attorney. He added that Cote stole from her former employer simply to "satisfy her greed," according to a written release.
DiClerico ordered Cote to pay restitution of $55,204.25 to the Magruders, $2,000 to American Express, and $2,685 to Capital One.
She will be subject to three years of supervised release at the end of her prison sentence.