Woman given year in jail for embezzling from Johnson City law office

Becky Campbell • Mar 5, 2013 at 10:33 AM

A former law office comptroller will serve a year in jail and 30 years on probation, but that could be reduced if she finishes repaying money she stole to support a cocaine habit.

Lisa Potter, 43, of Elizabethton, was sentenced Monday at a hearing before Washington County Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp. The judge heard testimony in the case in December, but the case was delayed before he made a ruling at that time. Potter pleaded guilty to theft over $60,000 last year in exchange for a nine-year prison sentence.

According to Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle, Potter took more than $300,000 from Tony Seaton during a 2 1/2-year period beginning in 2008. At a previous hearing, Seaton testified he didn’t notice the missing money because his expenses were high at the time while he was building a new house.

He commissioned an audit 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,” he testified at that hearing.

Seaton said the audit showed Potter, an employee he trusted 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 worked as Seaton’s office comptroller from 2001 to 2005. She testified at the December hearing 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 returning 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.

McArdle said Monday that Potter has repaid $200,000 and still owes Seaton $157,000.

Last year, 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.

In Cupp’s ruling Monday, he said if Potter repays the remaining amount owed to Seaton, her probation would end after the original nine-year sentence. Potter will report to jail to begin serving her sentence May 3.

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