Howard pleads guilty to theft charges in embezzlement case

Published 3:56 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Roan Mountain woman accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from her former employer entered a guilty plea to three felony theft charges on Tuesday morning.

Emilee Howard, 33, of 108 Roby Miller Road, entered an Alford Plea to three counts of theft of property over $10,000 but less than $60,000 and received an effective 18-year sentence, which was suspended and alternative sentencing was granted as part of the plea agreement.

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An Alford Plea is a guilty plea of a defendant who proclaims they are innocent of the crime but admits that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the first count, Howard will serve six years with the Alternative Community Corrections Program, which is similar to house arrest. After completing the six years with ACCP, Howard will then begin two consecutive six-year terms of probation through the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

As part of the plea agreement, Howard was ordered to pay $248,847.91 in restitution to local attorney David Crockett. Howard was employed by Crockett to work in his law office at the time the thefts occurred. The payment of the restitution is part of the plea agreement and is a condition of her suspended sentence.

Howard agreed to make an initial payment of $10,000 toward the restitution by Nov. 1. She told the court her father had loaned her the money to make that initial payment.

Following a court hearing regarding restitution payments on Tuesday, Judge Stacy Street ordered Howard to begin making minimum payments of $500 per month toward the restitution owed to Crockett. She is scheduled to begin her monthly restitution payments on Dec. 1.

Crockett hired Howard to work in his law office, and according to the indictment, Howard stole money from several of Crockett’s financial accounts during a period of time from January 2011 through December 2015.

“She took care of his finances, both personal and business,” Assistant District Attorney General Richie Collins said. “The evidence would show Mr. Crockett’s trust in her was misplaced.”

According to Collins, Howard took money from several financial accounts belonging to Crockett including his personal bank account, his retirement account, an investment account, and his credit cards. Howard wrote checks to herself from Crockett’s accounts and withdrew funds for her own personal use, according to Collins.

“Mr. Crockett had made her a joint owner on one of his accounts and that has greatly reduced the amount of restitution,” Collins said, adding that because Crockett had added Howard as a signatory on one of his accounts the funds taken from that account could not be prosecuted because they were considered as jointly owned. “We started out much closer to $500,000 than where we are now.”

“Sometimes what is morally wrong isn’t always legally wrong,” Collins added.

As part of the proceeding, Street allowed Crockett to address the court regarding the impact the thefts have made in his life.

Crockett said when he first met Howard he felt sorry for her and gave her a job.

“I didn’t know her background,” Crockett said. “I’ve since learned she is a con artist. I’ve been conned.”

During the time she was employed for him, Crockett said he gave her money to pay for her wedding and money to cover a surgery that her husband needed to have.

“I was very generous to her. Anything she needed and asked for, I gave her. If she did anything extra I gave her a bonus,” Crockett said. “All she ever did for me was take everything I had worked for for 52 years.”

According to Crockett, Howard used the money she took from him to “live the high life.” He said Howard took friends and family on several vacations, trips, and cruises where she paid all of the expenses. According to Crockett, Howard and her husband bought new vehicles and a $20,000 boat among other major purchases.