SILER CITY — A Chatham businesswoman has been charged with embezzling nearly $1 million from her Siler City employer.
Cheryl Rouse Fields, 65, of Goldston allegedly stole more than …
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SILER CITY — A Chatham businesswoman has been charged with embezzling nearly $1 million from her Siler City employer in what might be one of Chatham County’s costliest embezzlement operations in recent history.
Cheryl Rouse Fields, 65, of Goldston allegedly stole more than $900,000 over the course of at least 10 years from the Basic Machinery Company where she worked as an administrative manager and oversaw the business’s payroll, according to the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.
Police were first alerted to the potential crime in March. An internal company audit uncovered inconsistencies in documentation, a CCSO press release said. Further investigation revealed Fields had been overpaying herself for at least a decade.
Fields was arrested earlier this month on charges of felony embezzlement and felony corporate malfeasance. If prosecuted for her suspected crimes, Fields may be guilty of Chatham’s largest embezzlement scheme in recent times, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever had an embezzlement that alleged that much money in Chatham County before,” Kaley Taber, the managing assistant district attorney for Chatham and Orange Counties, told the News + Record. “That is probably a first in Chatham County. I think we’ve had some in Orange County that were at that level, but I think that’s the first one in Chatham County. I’ve been here a long time and it’s the only one I can remember.”
To be found guilty of embezzlement, the prosecution will have to show that Fields was uniquely responsible for the money she took, according to Taber.
“Embezzlement requires that you’re entrusted with money and you divert it to your own means,” she said. “It’s not like a regular theft — it does require sort of a position of trust in order to be charged with embezzlement.”
Unlike larceny, embezzlement does not require illegal acquisition of money to qualify as a criminal act. Instead, it is the misappropriation of funds, usually for the embezzler’s personal gain.
“If someone broke into a bank and stole $1 million, that’s just theft,” Taber said, “but embezzlement is a little more complicated.”
Upon her arrest, Fields was issued a written promise to appear in Chatham County District Court in Pittsboro on June 7, but it appears that date was pushed back, Taber said, and court proceedings are likely to continue sometime in July. As of press time, the N.C. courts website had not updated with Fields’ new court date.
North Carolina law establishes two classifications of embezzlement. If less than $100,000 is misappropriated, the crime is a Class H felony punishable by only about half a year in prison or community service. Embezzling $100,000 or more, though — as Fields is suspected to have done — is a Class C felony punishable by up to nearly 20 years in prison and typically requiring full restitution of stolen funds.
Of all corporate embezzlement cases globally, about 20% include figures of $1 million or more, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The ACFE discovered a median loss in 2020 of about $125,000 based on a study of more the 2,500 occupational fraud cases across 125 counties.
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dldolder.