Guilty Plea in Smokehouse Theft
Claremont Woman Stole $600,000
Concord — A former longtime employee of North Country Smokehouse in Claremont who stole more than $600,000 from her employer and spent it on luxury cars, jewelry and vacations, confessed to her crime in U.S. District Court Thursday and now faces 33 months in prison when she is sentenced Jan. 16.
Claremont resident Bonnie Johnson, 45, who was an administrative assistant to business owner Mike Satzow until she was fired earlier this year, pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud. She remains free on personal recognizance.
Judge Joseph Laplante told Johnson that she could withdraw her plea if he does not accept the recommended sentence, which includes three years of supervised release. Johnson is also ordered to pay $600,000 in restitution to the business.
Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
During the 45 minute hearing, attended only by Johnson, her attorney Rich Guerriero and Nick Abramson, assistant U.S. Attorney, Laplante reviewed the agreement in detail and asked Johnson a series of questions about the case, her personal life, whether she fully understood her plea and was satisfied with her legal representation. He also explained she was giving up her right to a trial and surrendering some constitutional rights.
To each question, Johnson responded, “yes, sir.”
“Why did you plead guilty?” Judge Laplante asked at one point.
“Because I am,” replied Johnson. “And the evidence is there.”
Toward the end of the hearing, Laplante asked both attorneys why they are recommending delaying the sentencing when Johnson has admitted her guilt.
Abramson and Guerriero said Johnson had fully cooperated with investigators from the very beginning, immediately confessed to North Country Smokehouse and does not pose a flight risk.
Johnson and her husband recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and are in the process of moving from Claremont to Grantham. Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy code is liquidation of assets, and the proceeds from the sale of any property, including the couple’s home, would go to Satzow, according to the bankruptcy filing.
“She has had a lot of changes and this will allow for some adjustment before her sentencing,” Abramson said about giving Johnson some time before prison. “She is working with her family to make arrangements to deal with the consequences of her conduct,” added Guerriero.
During the hearing, Abramson read from the portion of the 13-page plea agreement that details the charges against Johnson, who was hired at North Country Smokehouse in 1992. She was fired in April of this year after Satzow discovered the missing money.
Abramson said the thefts began in July 1, 2005. Johnson had access to the company’s credit cards and checking and bank accounts and the authority to “endorse Company checks with his (the owner’s) personal signature stamp.”
Abramson said Johnson used that authority to endorse checks made out to herself and deposit them into her own account in Claremont. She also charged personal expenses on the company credit cards.
To cover the theft, Johnson created phony accounts payable to one of North Country’s three largest suppliers, which made it look like the money was being charged by a corporate client and paid by the company, the plea agreement states. The total value of the fraudulent wire transfers from the company’s bank in Windsor totaled $606,000.
“It my understanding much of it was used for personal vehicles, trips and jewelry,” Abramson told Judge Laplante in response.
Guerriero told Laplante that while he was not making excuses for his client’s behavior he did believe that “during the early years of the fraud, her husband’s business was struggling and that might have been motivation as well.”
Satzow declined to comment on the case when contacted Thursday evening.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.