Woman pleas to embezzlement

Sarah Willets Staff writer

December 18, 2013

LUMBERTON — A Lumberton woman who embezzled more than $200,000 from her employer, putting him out of business, recently faced her former boss as she was sentenced for those crimes.

“I saw her for what she was — which is a cold, calculating, un-remorseful person,” said Charlie Hall.

Hall owned Accent Fabrics in Lumberton, where Sue Byrd Hicks worked as a secretary and accountant for more than 25 years.

Hicks was arrested in November 2010 on 533 felony counts, including embezzlement, obtaining property by false pretenses and forgery. On Dec. 9, she pleaded guilty to 348 of those counts, according to Erich Hackney, an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office who lead the eight-month inquiry.

Superior Court Judge Frank Floyd sentenced Hicks to to six months of house arrest, five years of probation, 500 hours of community service and ordered her to pay $29,000 that is owed to the Internal Revenue Service, according to Hackney.

According to Hall, the debt Hicks racked up by forging his name on checks and funnelling money from his knitting company forced him out of business in 2010 after 28 years.

“I had a very sound business and I put 16 people, including myself, on the street because of Sue,” Hall said.

Hall said he was a close friend of the Hicks family and never suspected she would betray him.

“She was very bright, hard-working,” he said. “I just totally trusted her.”

Hall contacted authorities in early 2010 after BB&T closed the company bank account because Hicks wasn’t withholding federal income tax from Accent Fabrics’ employees.

It’s unclear how long Hicks was taking money from Accent Fabrics or exactly how much she took. Over the years, she used forged checks to pay for thousands of dollars in utilities bills, doctor’s visits, shopping trips and more, Hackney said.

Additionally, she diverted more than $63,000 from the company to businesses owned by her husband, including Lumberton restaurant Uptown Cafe, which closed in 2006, Hackney said. Hicks also gave thousands in stolen company money to her relatives. According to Hall, Hicks gave her late sister, who was terminally ill, a forged check.

“Why in the world she didn’t just steal something for herself, I don’t know,” Hall said. “I feel sorry for her family. It was atrocious for her to bring her family in.”

Three of Hicks’ relatives were also charged with various crimes.

“I’ll be the first to admit that I should have kept better controls on her, but after 28 years, you think you can trust somebody,” said Hall, who has since started a new textile business in Wilmington.

“It took me a couple of years,” he said. “I didn’t know which way to turn … because of the loss of income.”

According to Hackney, Hicks’ maximum possible sentence was 683 years in prison. In part because of concerns that she would lose her current job, her punishment was lightened.

“The sad part about this is the fact that Accent Fabrics went out of business solely because of her actions …,” Hackney said. According to Hackney, proof of Hick’s employment was not presented to the court.

Hall says Hicks got off easy.

“I just think that it’s wrong for her to walk away,” Hall said of the sentencing. “Justice was not served.”