First Posted: 9/30/2009
DOBSON Three former employees of Bassett Furniture Industries in Mount Airy have pleaded guilty to their part in a massive embezzlement scheme and been sentenced.
Only one person remains to be processed in the state-prosecuted case that first came to light more than four years ago and involved eight people in all, who each held management positions.
Jerry Conrad Tolbert, 59, of Mount Airy, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Surry Superior Court to 10 felony counts of embezzlement and was sentenced to three prison sentences of six to eight months each, to run consecutively.
However, those terms were suspended except for a 30-day active sentence that Tolbert, former maintenance supervisor at the plant on Sheep Farm Road, began serving Tuesday.
He also was ordered to cooperate with the state, perform 100 hours of community service and pay $2,500 in fines, $7,000 in restitution and court costs.
Gary Vann Moser, 50, of Pilot Mountain, who was receiving supervisor at the plant, pleaded guilty Tuesday to seven counts of misdemeanor larceny. Moser was sentenced to 24 months of probation and ordered to cooperate with the state, perform 100 hours of community service and pay $5,000 in fines, $6,000 in restitution and court costs.
Former Production Manager Randall Lawless, 55, of Stuart, Va., also pleaded guilty Tuesday to seven counts of misdemeanor larceny.
Lawless was placed on probation for 24 months and ordered to cooperate with the state, perform 100 hours of community service and pay $5,000 in fines, $3,000 in restitution and court costs.
The punishment meted out Tuesday to those defendants was lighter than that given to others who were involved in the scheme that investigators say netted at least $1.9 million in products from the Bassett plant. It later closed, with that move unrelated to the embezzlement case.
Moser, Tolbert and Lawless were not implicated in making money from furniture sales, only in taking furniture for themselves and their families, explained Noelle Talley, a spokesperson for the N.C. Attorney Generals Office.
That office prosecuted the case after the State Bureau of Investigation took over the probe from the Surry County Sheriffs Office due to its magnitude. Investigators had to sift through mounds of records as part of the painstaking process to determine the scope of the wrongdoing.
Only one person remains to be sentenced in the case, Lisa Martin, former shipping supervisor, who pleaded guilty to 25 felony embezzlement counts in August 2007. Martin, who agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea bargain, has yet to be scheduled for sentencing, Talley said.
Those previously tried on embezzlement charges include former Plant Manager Ron Jarrett; Michael Gray Slate, supervisor of table production; Slates brother, David Ray Slate, plant controller; and Michael Wayne Pennington, assistant superintendent.
All those defendants received active time. Most of the eight people involved in the case had been employed by Bassett Furniture for more than 10 years.
A special prosecutor for the state has said the defendants would remove furniture from completed orders that were then stored in a warehouse for indefinite periods, which meant they were not discovered missing right away.
Martin was able to manipulate company records to keep the thefts from being found out through normal tracking channels.
Past reports have indicated that around 80 items were recovered on the day the embezzlement investigation began in 2005, along with another 300-plus pieces of furniture and accessories in the months that followed.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.