Woman says she was using embezzled money to support cocaine habit

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 13, 2012 at 9:05 AM

A woman who pleaded guilty to taking more than $60,000 from a Johnson City law office where she was employed testified Wednesday she was using the money to support at a $1,000-a-week cocaine habit.

Lisa Potter, 43, formerly of North Sycamore Street, Elizabethton, was charged with theft over $60,000 in August 2011 after attorney Tony Seaton told police an audit had revealed that more than $60,000 had been taken from his office’s accounts over a 2 1/2 year period.

Seaton testified Wednesday in Washington County Criminal Court the audit was conducted in May 2011 after his bank informed him “our loans were way behind, which wasn’t like us, and they had found a number of forged checks.”

Seaton said the audit showed Potter, who was a trusted employee who worked as the main comptroller of his entire business operation, had written a total of 345 checks to herself or other members of her family then falsified computer entries to make it appear the checks were written for legitimate business expenses that were not paid.

Seaton said he was building a new home at the time and knew his expenses were high, but it was neglect on his part that allowed the thefts to go undetected. He said the checks were always written in small increments that never exceeded $2,000 but that they were sometimes written as frequently as three times a week.

Potter, who worked as Seaton’s office comptroller from 2001 to 2005, said she left the law office and worked in real estate for about three years then returned to her former job with the law firm. in October 2008, about 10 months into what she described as an escalating cocaine addiction on which she was spending $1,000 to $1,200 a week, she first depleted her savings to meet her desire for the drugs, then took out a $50,000 loan on her home on which she later defaulted.

While Potter testified she did not return to Seaton’s employment in order to steal from his office, Seaton said the audit showed she had written checks and falsified bookkeeping entries for more than $6,000 within three days of retuning to work.

After Potter’s arrest, Seaton said Potter’s father gave him some apartments as payment for some of the funds she had stolen and that he immediately sold the apartments and recouped about half the total that was taken.

He testified he did not know the total amount stolen on Wednesday but that it was “a lot more” than $60,000 and he would provide the exact total to the court.

Judge Robert Cupp said that including the loss of her savings and home and the funds she took from Seaton, it appeared Potter had spent about $500,000 on cocaine over a three-year period. Potter refused to answer repeated questions from Cupp and from prosecutors about where and from whom she had purchased the cocaine, saying she feared for her life and the lives of her family.

Seaton and another longtime employee of his office who exercised regularly with Potter and frequently saw her outside the office said they never detected anything in her behavior that indicated she was using drugs.

Because attorneys on both sides of the case had conflicting legal appointments Wednesday afternoon, Cupp halted the testimony and scheduled the hearing to resume today at 9 a.m.

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