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Witnesses say Byrd attorney was concerned she would be prosecuted
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Witnesses say Byrd attorney was concerned she would be prosecuted

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Two witnesses in the Rhonda Byrd embezzlement trial testified Wednesday that during a 2008 meeting with Byrd and her attorney, they heard Byrd’s attorney say he was concerned that Byrd faced possible criminal prosecution for her activities.

Byrd is being tried in Forsyth County Superior Court on three counts that she embezzled funds belonging to companies owned by Lewisville businessman Bobby Slate. Superior Court Judge Eric Morgan is presiding over the trial.

The indictments allege that between 1999 and 2008, while an employee trusted with handling company finances, Byrd stole money from three of Slate’s companies: Slate Marketing Inc., Slate Retail Systems Inc. and Slate Packaging Inc.

Prosecutor Scott Harkey told a jury on Tuesday that Byrd stole more than $1 million by falsifying payments, writing herself checks and using her access to the company payroll system to pay herself extra money.

In his opening statement to the jury on Tuesday, Speaks said Slate knew what Byrd was doing and didn’t care.

The two witnesses of the 2008 meeting were Robert Peiffer, a former top salesman and account executive for the Slate companies, and attorney Jim Iseman, who works at the local firm of Bell, Davis and Pitt, who represented Slate in 2008.

Both men testified that they were at Iseman’s law firm on April 30, 2008, to meet with Byrd, Matthew Bryant, her attorney at that time, and others. That was just days after Byrd had stopped working at Slate and suspicions were rising that she had stolen from the company.

The men said two accountants were also at the law office meeting, which was held in hopes of discovering how much money was gone and what had happened to it. They wanted Byrd to return files she was said to have taken on her exit, and hoped she would provide spreadsheets to help them track the money.

During the meeting, Peiffer testified, he heard Bryant express a concern that Byrd did not have enough time to make restitution, and that he was concerned about criminal prosecution.

Iseman testified that he heard admissions during the meeting that Byrd had misused company credit cards by making personal purchases. Iseman wrote a memo after the meeting that mentioned Bryant’s concerns about prosecution.

On cross-examination by Bill Speaks, Byrd’s defense attorney, Peiffer said he never remembered telling Byrd in 2007 or 2008 that “you need to keep this company running” because of its financial difficulties. Peiffer said he didn’t remember telling Byrd, “I don’t see how you keep this together.”

A third witness testified on Wednesday that a time came when Byrd began writing her own paychecks, and began limiting who could get company mail in an effort to keep Slate from seeing it.

That witness was Patricia Gordon, who worked as a bookkeeper under Byrd and whose duties including cutting checks for company employees.

“After a couple years, she (Byrd) came in and told me she was going to cut her own check,” Gordon testified. Gordon continued to cut the checks for all the other employees, she said. After Byrd took over issuing her own pay, Gordon said, Byrd began paying herself at different times of the month.

At another time, Gordon said, Byrd told her she was no longer allowed to pick up mail from a post office box. If Byrd wasn’t in the office and mail arrived there, Gordon said, she was supposed to “put it out of sight.”

“She didn’t want Bobby to see the mail,” Gordon testified. “She didn’t want Bobby to deal with it and then deal with Bobby.”

Gordon said she never questioned Byrd’s actions because “she was my boss and my friend.” Reddening with tears, Gordon said that she had been over to Byrd’s house “many times.”

On cross-examination, Speaks had Gordon acknowledge that she wasn’t present for any conversations between Slate and Byrd about Byrd’s compensation.

Bill Jeffries, an information consultant for Slate, testified Wednesday that he was called after Byrd left the company in 2008 and asked to cut off Byrd’s remote access to her company computer.

After he did that, he said, he was told later the same day to restore Byrd’s access because she was going to “help him (Slate) figure out what happened to the money.”

Jeffries restored Byrd’s access even though he “didn’t think it was a good idea,” he testified.

When access was restored, Jeffries testified, all the emails on the computer were deleted by someone using Byrd’s login.

Jeffries was able to restore the emails, he said, but Speaks had Jeffries confirm that he couldn’t say who did the deletion.

“I guess not,” Jeffries said. “It’s a little coincidental.”

wyoung@wsjournal.com 336-727-7369 @wyoungWSJ

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