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Charlotte couple who drained $200K from high school booster club to plead guilty




  • In US
  • 2021-08-26 22:18:04Z
  • By Charlotte Observer
 

A husband and wife who are accused of embezzling at least $200,000 from the South Mecklenburg High School booster club are expected to plead guilty in federal court in the coming days.

Prosecutors say Anthony and Deana Sharper slowly took charge of the club's finances and leeched its accounts for years. They wrote themselves checks for phony reimbursements, ran up personal expenses on the club's debit and credit cards, and burned through club funds with expensive meals, Charlotte Hornets tickets and an overseas trip.

Anthony Sharper, a certified public accountant, attempted to hide the thefts with $236,000 in COVID-19 relief loans, which he received for the club and his accounting firm using fraudulent applications, prosecutors claim. Instead, he spent the bulk on himself.

Deana Sharper's attorney, Robert Corbett III of Charlotte, did not respond to an Observer email Thursday seeking comment.

Christopher Young, a Washington attorney representing Anthony Sharper, confirmed some of the details of his client's new plea agreement with prosecutors but otherwise did not comment.

South Meck High boosters stole $200K and used COVID loans to cover tracks, feds say

The Sharpers were indicted in May. This week, filings in the case by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Charlotte reveal that they have agreed to plead guilty.

Deana Sharper will go first. Tuesday morning, she's scheduled to plead to one count of wire fraud scheme to defraud the booster club - the lone charge on her indictment.

Anthony Sharper was originally indicted on eight counts and pleaded not guilty in June. But under his agreement with prosecutors, he is expected to plead guilty to four charges: the wire fraud scheme; making false statements to a financial institution; engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property, and filing a false tax return.

His plea hearing had not been scheduled as of Thursday.

What punishment the Sharpers face remains unclear. The ultimate decision falls to U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, who will sentence the couple at a later date.

According to court filings, Deana Sharper is pleading "straight up" to the wire fraud charge, meaning she has not received any inducements from prosecutors in return for her guilty plea.

Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, a punishment far greater than what she is likely to receive.

Anthony Sharper's crimes combined carry up to 60 years in prison and $2 million in fines - again, far more than what Cogburn is expected to hand down.

Anthony Sharper's plea agreement, which surfaced in federal court on Wednesday, offers few additional details.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Caryn Finley does not make a sentencing recommendation to the judge and acknowledges that the parties are still arguing over the amount of financial loss tied to Sharper's crimes.

Finley puts it a little more than $500,000. If the judge settles on a smaller amount, it could lessen Anthony Sharper's punishment.

Hornets tickets and Ruth's Chris

According to their 13-page indictment, the Sharpers played the long game. They gradually gained influence and control over the booster club's affairs to the point that by 2019, they were the only authorized signatories on the checking account.

Over a three-year period starting in 2017, the Sharpers wrote more than $100,000 in checks to themselves from the account for fraudulent reimbursements. They also used club's credit and debit cards to run up thousands of dollars in personal expenses in six states as well as during a trip to London, the indictment shows.

In some cases, according to the indictment, their raids on the booster money grew increasingly lavish - $5,000 for Hornets tickets; almost $850 on meals at Ruth's Chris; more than $20,000 in cash and ATM withdrawals. Anthony Sharper later double downed, using at least $20,000 in booster club money to pay down the credit card charges he and his wife had been running up, prosecutors say.

In 2020, Anthony Sharper filed for federal pandemic-related economic relief for both the booster club and his own accounting firm. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, his three applications relied on fake revenue, payroll and employment numbers, leading to Sharper receiving almost a quarter of million dollars in aid from Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

That May, the indictment claims, he used $40,000 of the loans on South Meck's playing fields, painting the offices of the school's coaches, and purchasing sports equipment. He spent another $25,000 to pay down the outstanding balance on the booster club credit card.

Much of the rest, he used for unlawful business or personal expenses, prosecutors say, including almost $20,000 to buy a 2019 Honda Civic.

In May 2020, Anthony Sharper emailed booster club members a screen shot showing a $150,283 balance in the club account. In fact, according to the indictment, the actual amount was $522.07.

At the time of the Sharpers' indictments, booster club co-president Kriss Anne Carlstrom said the couple resigned from the club's board in 2020, and that a series of "irregular transactions" were discovered and reported to the club's bank.

The club, she said, "cooperated fully" with the resulting investigation, which included the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. postal authorities.

Carlstrom did not respond to an Observer email Thursday seeking comment.

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