A former practice manager at the West Rome Animal Clinic pleaded guilty on Monday to embezzling more than $250,000 over the course of seven years.
During her time at the veterinary clinic, Meleah Beth Landers was in charge of issuing payments for bills accrued in the course of doing business. She managed the mortgage payment, bills from veterinary supply companies and even the the personal credit card bills for the clinic’s owner.
According to arrest warrants and a separate lawsuit filed in Floyd County Superior Court:
Beginning in 2010, as far back as tax records have been able to trace, Landers began cooking the books to keep money for herself and her family. On Sept. 19, 2017, the clinic’s owner Dr. Dan Pate received a call from the practice’s veterinary supplier saying the clinic was in arrears of $150,000.
At the time of the call, he believed their account was in good standing and approached Landers.
She said it was a mistake and had happened before, the lawsuit stated. Landers assured him that there had been a “computer glitch” in the veterinary supplier’s computers and she would get it straightened out.
In another incident, “Landers assured Dr. Pate that she had been making additional monthly payments on the (mortgage) loan in an amount up to double the payment.” However, the clinic’s representatives contacted the loan officer, who informed them that only the minimum payment had been made for the last two years.
The clinic hired a certified public accountant to perform a forensic audit. According to a lawsuit, that audit found numerous instances where Landers had claimed to pay higher amounts for the clinic’s bills or just hadn’t paid the bills at all.
That money had been used for other purposes.
“(Meleah) Landers used the money for her and for her family to live beyond their means,” Rome Circuit Assistant District Attorney Leah Mayo told the court. The prosecutor listed several examples, including a country club membership paid with ill-gotten funds. “In seven years she stole over a quarter of a million dollars.”
In sum total, Landers is accused of taking $259,244 in funds. The clinic also incurred $20,000 in interest from unpaid bills and just over $25,000 in auditing costs to discover how much had been taken.
“Dr. Pate and the clinic are still recovering,” Mayo told the court.
After learning about the massive unpaid bills, Pate sold a substantial amount of stocks in Home Depot to cover the clinic’s cost. He also had to pay over $10,000 in fees because Landers had not paid his credit card bills.
The tax records, according to the civil lawsuit, only go back to 2010.
Landers had been employed at the clinic since 1997 and during that time, with financial assistance from Pate, had gone to school in order to become the clinic’s office manager.
After Landers entered her guilty plea, her attorney Brian McWhorter requested the sentencing be moved back a couple of weeks.
Landers’ other attorney, Minerva Blanchette, argued the separate civil lawsuit filed by the clinic against Landers was likely to come to a settlement soon. That would clear up the restitution issue for sentencing purposes.
“Restitution is the biggest part of this case,” McWhorter told the judge.
Floyd County Superior Court Judge John Niedrach retorted that the amount of time she may spend in prison would likely be more important to Landers.
He did not indicate whether or not Landers would serve prison time. The charges she faces carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Landers, who entered a nonnegotiated guilty plea to the six counts of theft, said she hadn’t expected to need character witnesses and statements at Monday’s plea hearing.
“I came with the intention of entering this plea,” Landers told the court. “I did not know to have my witnesses here ... I came in with the intention to do this plea and ask to come home and take care of a few things.”
After being hesitant to comply with the request, Niedrach pushed the sentencing hearing back. As of Monday afternoon, neither the date nor time of the hearing had been set. Landers remained out on bond.