GREAT FALLS — A Great Falls woman who admitted to embezzling over $600,000 from a local construction company was sentenced today to two and a half years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said. Additionally, the defendant was ordered to pay $611,665.22 in restitution. Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided over the sentencing.
Nicole Ann Lopez, 37, previously pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud.
The government alleged in court documents that in 2013, M&D Construction hired Lopez as a bookkeeper/accountant for the business. As part of her duties, Lopez was given access to M&D’s bank account and was given administrator permission over M&D’s Quick Books account.
Between January 2017 and January 2020, defendant Lopez charged over $600,000 on her personal credit card accounts. Her expenses focused mostly on consumer shopping and travel, and included over $80,000 on purchases from Amazon, over $115,000 on general retail purchases, over $46,000 on clothing, over $57,000 on travel, over $34,000 on restaurants, over $24,000 on beauty products, over $12,000 on furniture, and over $7,000 on plastic surgery. None of these purchases was related to M&D’s business operations.
To pay for her personal credit card expenses, Lopez embarked on a scheme to embezzle money from M&D by using her access to M&D’s bank account to direct payments from the M&D business account to her personal credit accounts without the knowledge of or authorization from M&D’s owners. Between January 2017 and January 2020, Lopez directed 72 payments from M&D to her personal credit accounts and embezzled approximately $632,362.65.
Lopez’s embezzlement scheme was discovered when she purchased a small boutique clothing store in downtown Great Falls called Sora & Co., and resigned her position at M&D. To replace her, M&D hired a new accounting firm and a review of M&D’s books determined that over $600,000 was missing. M&D’s accounting firm contacted their bank and learned that the missing funds were paid directly to Lopez’s credit card accounts
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey K. Starnes prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.