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Triad man, woman accused of stealing $3 million from employer
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Triad man, woman accused of stealing $3 million from employer

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A Winston-Salem businessman was bilked out of $3 million by two former employees, including his bookkeeper, according to indictments handed up Monday and a federal lawsuit filed eight years ago.

The businessman was Bobby Slate, who owns Slate Marketing Inc. and La Casa Real Estate and Investment LLC. The two employees were Rhonda Lea Byrd, 56, of Boulder Court in Davidson County, and Charles Dewayne Washington, 52, of Clement Street in Winston-Salem.

A Forsyth County grand jury on Monday indicted Byrd on five counts of embezzlement, one count of conspiracy and one count of obtaining property by false pretenses. Washington was indicted on three counts of embezzlement and one count of conspiracy.

Byrd and Washington are accused of taking money from Slate Marketing and La Casa Real Estate. The indictments allege that Byrd, a bookkeeper and administrative assistant, embezzled money from 1999 to 2008.

The indictments against Washington span the period from 2005 to 2008.

A phone number for Byrd was disconnected, and Washington could not be reached for comment.

The indictments don’t provide much detail, and Scott Harkey, a financial-crimes prosecutor for the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, said the N.C. Rules of Professional Responsibility prohibit him from commenting on pending litigation.

But a federal lawsuit that Slate filed provides plenty of detail about the allegations. Slate did not respond to a message asking for comment.

According to court papers filed in the lawsuit, which was settled in 2013, Byrd worked for Slate Marketing from 1991 to 2008. By 2005, she was in charge of Slate’s personal finances and the finances of his companies.

Washington began working for La Casa in 2005. His initial job was to assist in a development of a project in Atlantic Beach, S.C.

Slate alleges in court papers that when Byrd started working for Slate, she also began stealing from him.

“From the outset, Byrd embezzled money from Slate Marketing (and subsequently from the other corporate plaintiffs as well) via excess payroll, which she was charged with administering,” Slate’s attorneys alleged in court papers. “By the time her fraudulent scheme was discovered in April 2008, Byrd had embezzled over $1 million in excess payroll.”

Washington found out about Byrd’s alleged scheme in 2004. Together, the two opened credit card accounts and lines of credit at various financial institutions in the names of Slate Marketing and Slate Retail Systems, according to court papers. Washington is also accused of embezzling money from payroll. The two also used Slate’s new companies to open more credit-card accounts, lines of credit and loans.

“As part of their scheme, Byrd and Washington embezzled loan proceeds from a home equity line on Slate’s house, embezzled funds from corporate plaintiffs to purchase vacation homes in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and defrauded Slate of money used to purchase another home in High Meadows in the North Carolina mountains,” Slate’s attorneys alleged in court papers.

Slate alleged that Byrd and Washington used the money to buy “furnishings for these and other homes, a deluxe sound system, extensive renovations to the High Meadows house, wedding expenses, car payments and travel expenses and hotel stays.”

Some of the money went to benefit Joe Byrd — Rhonda Byrd’s husband — and his business, court papers allege.

“(Rhonda) Byrd even stole family jewelry from Slate’s personal safety deposit box at First Citizens Bank,” Slate’s attorneys said in court papers.

Byrd and Washington embezzled a total of $3.3 million in assets, Slate alleged in court papers. Slate also alleged that Byrd embezzled $186,216 in payroll between 1991 and 1998 and illegally obtained jewelry from Slate that was valued at $30,000 to $50,000.

Slate’s attorneys said in court papers that Slate and other plaintiffs lost $14 million in profits because certain developments could not be completed.

In court papers, Byrd and Washington denied the allegations and accused Slate of threatening them with violence and causing emotional distress.

In November 2013, Byrd and Washington consented to a $3 million civil judgment.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill said his office deferred the case to Harkey because the allegations were complex. Byrd and Washington were indicted on similar allegations in 2009, but Harkey dismissed those charges because he wanted more investigation, O’Neill said.

Washington was convicted in 1988 on embezzlement charges. The paperwork has since been destroyed, so there’s no detail on what he was accused of doing. Washington was given a suspended sentence in that case, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

No court date has been set for either Byrd or Washington.

mhewlett@wsjournal.com (336) 727-7326 @mhewlettWSJ

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