A woman was convicted late Thursday afternoon in Wilkes Superior Court of charges arising from the embezzlement of more than $410,000 from Brushy Mountain Group Homes Inc.
Shelley Lovette Gamble, 55, of Shingle Gap Road, Millers Creek, was the nonprofit organization’s executive director for 18 years. This included the years 2012 through 2016, the period of time in which she took the money, according to testimony.
At 3:50 p.m., jurors returned convictions for two counts of embezzling $100,000 or more and six counts of embezzling lesser amounts. These are all felonies.
Gamble was sentenced by Judge Michael Duncan, Wilkes County’s resident Superior Court judge, to an active prison term of not less than seven years and six months nor more than 10 years and two months. According to state law, the lower end of this sentence must be served without possibility of parole.
This sentence was in the aggravated range because of the large amount of money stolen by Gamble.
Duncan gave her a second sentence of not less than six years nor more than eight years and two months. He suspended this sentence for 60 months under supervised probation, which will begin on her release from prison. This second sentence was in the presumptive or middle range.
Duncan ordered that she make $25,000 in restitution to Brushy Mountain Group Homes (BMGH) and forgave the rest, noting that Gamble would likely have no way of repaying her monetary debt.
Prosecuting for the state were assistant district attorney Matthew Leach and Lee Bollinger. Representing Gamble was attorney Davy Foster.
Testimony of state’s witnesses was that Gamble, between 2012 and 2016, used checks and a debit car belong to the group homes.
BMGH is a nonprofit organization that manages residential group homes for people 18 and older with development and intellectual disabilities.
Gamble and Linda Russell, another employee, had to co-sign all checks written. Gamble, witnesses said, used a signature stamp to forge Russell’s name.
Gamble also used a group home debit card to get cash and buy personal items.
Gamble moved money from BMGH’s money market accounts into checking accounts in order to cover up her financial misdeeds, witnesses said.
“That was her entire job—to handle the money,” Leach said in his closing argument to the jury Thursday afternoon.
Gamble got the nonprofit’s board of directors to agree to stop paying for regular audits and had bank statements and bills mailed to her home address, Leach said.
He noted that the woman quit coming into an office at one of the group homes, located on Swain Street in North Wilkesboro. Two other group homes are located in the Mulberry community.
“She started off stealing a little bit” and escalated her behavior, the prosecutor said.
During a July 2016 meeting of BMGH’s board of directors, Gamble revealed that there was only $444 left in three money market accounts that had previously contained almost $350,000. She told board members that she thought the group homes should be sold.
The board of directors fired Gamble after consulting with their attorney, John Willardson. Willardson contacted District Attorney Tom Horner, who requested that the State Bureau of Investigation look at the matter.
An investigation by SBI Special Agent Marie Smith, who specializes in white-collar crime, resulted in the indictments brought against Gamble.
Board member Teresa Minton said BMGH struggled to stay afloat because Gamble had taken money for herself instead of paying bills.
Prior to sentencing, Gamble told Duncan that her embezzlement resulted from an addiction to prescription pain pills given to her by a pain clinic. She said she couldn’t remember using checks to embezzle funds.
“I beg for mercy,” she tearfully told Duncan.
Bollinger, prior to sentencing, said Gable’s claims of being addled by drugs were undercut because of the sophisticated manner in which she embezzled the money. He noted that 373 checks were written where Linda Russell’s co-signature was forged and that money was illicitly moved around to cover it up.
“She’s a person who misleads and manipulates,” Bollinger told the court. He said she selfishly “victimized mentally challenged adults” in the group homes.
Group home managers “had to pull money out of their own pockets” to pay for group home residents’ necessities, such as food, medicine and personal items. He noted that utilities at the homes were cut off at times because bills weren’t paid.