An Athens woman has now been charged with seven theft counts on accusations that she stole nearly $500,000 from her employer over a 20 year span.
Michelle Walters, 40, made her initial appearance in Marathon County Court Friday afternoon.
Police she embezzled the money from Northwestern Wisconsin Associates, Inc., a retirement plan company. The business is located in Wausau.
According to police reports, Walters confessed to stealing the money from NWA over the last six years to both her employer and police.
NWA president and owner, Matthew Stifler, found out about the scheme when the company's accountant noticed in the company ledger there had been a donation made to Arts Bash.
The accountant thanked Stifler for making the donation, since he had been involved in Arts Bash, but Stifler said he hadn't made a donation in years.
They got the original check from the company's bank, and found it was written to Michelle Walters, signed by Michelle Walters and endorsed by Michelle Walters.
That led Stifler to go through records to find dozens of unauthorized checks written by the suspect. For each unauthorized check Walters would list a different name as payee in the ledger, which was later entered into a computer.
Many checks were actually written to credit card companies, utilities, travel agents, and other businesses for Walters' personal gain.
In January, Wausau Police Detective Jeff Strobach told NewsChannel 7 Walters, who made $88,000 in 2011, admitted to the crime.
"The suspect when confronted by her employer confessed and wanted to do everything she can to make it right and then when I interviewed her it was more of the same," Det. Strobach said.
He says she's agreed to pay back the stolen money and has already paid about $14,000.
In a statement, Stifler stresses that no clients of NWA's have been affected, and that the stolen money came directly from the business account.
"The situation did not nor could it impact any of our client accounts. The nature of our business is completing the required accounting and compliance testing on business retirement plans. The monies in those retirement plans are held in trust elsewhere. Our employees never handle or have access to these funds," Stifler wrote.
Prior to the discovery of embezzlement, Stifler told police Walters had notified him that she didn't know if they would make payroll, and that he had to withdraw money from his own accounts to make payroll.
After the initial complaint in November, Stifler told police he no longer wanted to pursue criminal charges against Walters because he had met with her and she agreed to pay him back.
In December, he changed his mind, after finding out how much money had been stolen and realizing that he had to press charges to cash in an employee theft insurance policy for $50,000.
In an interview on January 12th, Walters told Det. Strobach that, "she has a good heart, but just got into trouble."
She also confessed to stealing the money and said she has a huge credit card problem. When asked what kinds of things she spent the money on, Walters said lots of little things like clothes, things for her kids and her husband.
Walters also said she'd put her home up for sale to pay back the company.
Stifler said that since the theft came to an end, NWA is stronger than ever. "As we enter our 30th year as a local Wausau business, we look forward to serving our clients for years to come."
Walters is free on a $100,000 signature bond. She'll return to court July 1.
If convicted on all counts, she faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison.
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