Attorney files lawsuit against woman charged with embezzling funds from his office

Published 8:18 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Roan Mountain woman charged with embezzling more than $300,000 from the attorney’s office where she worked has now been sued by her former employer who is seeking to recover damages and asking the court to place a lien on the woman’s home.

On May 23, local attorney David Crockett filed a lawsuit in Carter County Circuit Court against his former employee, Emilee Howard and her husband Joshua Howard. In the suit, Crockett alleges that Emilee Howard stole more than $500,000 from him during the time she worked for him. As part of her job, the lawsuit states, Emilee Howard was responsible for managing the finances of Crockett’s law practice as well as managing some of his personal financial matters. Crockett is asking the court to allow him to “recover from the defendants” an amount not to exceed $750,000.

“In or about January, 2011, Emilee Howard began writing and cashing checks out of (Crockett’s) bank accounts, payable in most instances to herself. This was done without the permission or knowledge of the owner of the accounts, namely plaintiff David Crockett. Emilee Howard would regularly write these checks, payable to herself, and then forge the signature of the plaintiff thereon,” the lawsuit states. “(Emilee Howard) also charged over $100,000, without (Crockett’s) knowledge or approval, on plaintiff’s credit card accounts to pay for airfare, cruises, wedding merchandise, and gifts, etc. Plaintiff avers further that defendant stole and converted cash payments from plaintiff’s clients intended to compensate plaintiff for his legal services.”

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Crockett claims in the lawsuit that over several years, Emilee Howard “converted and stole” funds from his office and accounts in an amount exceeding $500,000 until the thefts were discovered in January 2016. Upon discovering the thefts, Crockett immediately terminated Emilee Howard’s employment, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, when Crockett first hired Emilee Howard she was single and her maiden name was Emilee Tucker. While she was employed in Crockett’s office, she married Joshua Howard and the two purchased a home on Roby Miller Road in Roan Mountain.

“Plaintiff avers that defendants applied monies converted and stolen from plaintiff to the purchase of, and improvements to, said property, and/or to acquire equity in the property. Defendants also used these converted funds to pay for cruises and trips for their family and friends, and for other frivolities,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff avers that defendant Joshua T. Howard knew that these funds were unlawfully obtained from plaintiff, for the reason that all of the improvements to the defendants’ residence and other extravagances described above could not have been financed by the defendants’ combined modest salaries. Plaintiff avers further that these defendants were unjustly enriched by the acts of conversion and theft as described above.”

In addition to asking the court allow him to recover funds from Emilee and Joshua Howard, Crockett is also asking the court to place a Lien Lis Pendens against their home. Under federal law, a Lien Lis Pendens is a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed concerning real estate, involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it.

No court date has been scheduled at this time for the lawsuit to be heard in Circuit Court. Attorneys for Emilee and Joshua Howard have not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

The criminal charges against Emilee Howard in connection with the allegations contained in the lawsuit are currently pending in Carter County Criminal Court.

A Carter County Grand Jury handed down an indictment against Emilee Howard on Sept. 1, 2016, charging her with one count of theft over $250,000; two counts of theft over $10,000; and one count of theft over $1,000. Agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested Emilee Howard on Sept. 7, 2016, and she was released from custody that same day after posting a $10,000 bond.

Emilee Howard’s most recent court appearance on the criminal charges was on April 7.  During that court appearance, her attorney Gene Scott asked Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street to grant the defense another continuance in the case, citing a desire to try to reach an agreement with the District Attorney’s Office. If the agreement is not reached, Scott said the matter could be set for trial.

Street elected to set the case for trial and said if an agreement is reached the case could be brought up before then for resolution. Street scheduled Emilee Howard to go to trial on Dec. 13 and 14, with Dec. 15 being available as an overflow day if necessary.

No motions have been filed in the criminal case by either the defense or the District Attorney’s Office.