A Lenoir man accused in 2019 of embezzling more than $1 million from his employer now faces federal charges that carry the potential for millions of dollars in fines in addition to a lengthy prison sentence.
Richard Allen Clark, 55, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Charlotte on charges including mail fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns. Clark made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court for a brief hearing Monday.
Among the charges are five counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, which each carry a maximum prison term of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine; five counts of making and subscribing a false tax return, which each carry a maximum term of three years in prison and a $100,000 fine; and one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Clark was the office manager for Buffalo Creek Nurseries Inc. and Robert M. Gragg & Sons Nursery, both owned by the Gragg family, and was arrested in June 2019 on a state charge of felony embezzlement.
According to the federal indictment, Clark was employed by the nurseries from Jan. 1, 2013, through May 31, 2019.
Chad Gragg, one of the co-owners, told the News-Topic in 2019 that Clark was more than an employee, he was a close, highly trusted personal friend whom he had considered to be more like a brother.
The federal indictment repeats information that became public after the Gragg family filed a civil lawsuit against Clark in Caldwell Superior Court a few weeks after his arrest.
The lawsuit said that in mid-2016 the nurseries moved their business offices from 1641 Riverside Drive in Yadkin Valley to 3715 Collettsville Road, and Chad Gragg told Clark to close the Buffalo Creek Nurseries checking account at Capital Bank because he had opened a new account at First Citizens Bank.
But Clark did not close the Capital Bank account, and he told some of Gragg’s customers to mail checks to the Riverside Drive address, where he picked them up, endorsed them for deposit, and deposited them into the old account at Capital Bank, the lawsuit said.
Clark also wrote checks to himself and others from that account and forged Chad Gragg’s signature, in amounts totaling more than $800,000, the lawsuit said.
Clark also had the responsibility of withholding taxes from the wages of the nurseries’ employees, but while he withheld the taxes he failed to pay them to the North Carolina Department of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service, instead keeping them himself, the lawsuit said.
According to allegations in the indictment and a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, Clark used the stolen money to pay for his personal lifestyle, including to make payments for his home mortgage, to make auto loan payments for a Ford F-150 truck and other vehicles, to install a home theater system, and to pay for traveling and shopping expenses, among other things.
The charge of filing false tax returns accuses Clark of failing to claim more than $1 million in stolen money on his IRS tax returns, which the indictment says would have increased his tax bill by $195,000.