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Bookkeeper pleads guilty to stealing $1 million from Charleston company

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Karen Rhett, a 58-year-old Mount Pleasant resident, pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing more than $1 million from her former employer, Simmons Realty Co.

Acting U.S. Attorney M. Rhett DeHart said Rhett served as the Charleston real estate company’s bookkeeper, where she managed and controlled company finances, including payroll and taxes in the mid-1990s. Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Limehouse is prosecuting the case.

“During the course of her employment, Rhett engaged in a complex embezzlement scheme – starting by falsifying the business ledgers to move money to her personal accounts and evolving into augmenting her salary, stealing directly from other employees’ paychecks, and stealing from the other Simmons Realty-related entities,” according to a U.S. attorney’s office news release.

Along with stealing money from her employer and owners of the company, Rhett was accused of not reporting the illicit income and failing to pay more than $380,000 in taxes.

In the course of investigating the case, the FBI and IRS reviewed bank records, checks and other financial documents, including digital records on the hard drive Rhett used at her job.

That’s where agents found spreadsheets that Rhett used to document the amount of money she was stealing, where it came from and how she falsified the company’s records with fake entries in business ledgers, DeHart’s office said.

The U.S. attorney’s office also said that Rhett faces a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison along with possible financial penalties. She has agreed to forfeit more than $640,000 as part of her plea agreement.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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