Crime

She spent $200K on trips, ‘casino nights,’ jewelry. ‘Ada stole from me for 2 1/2 years.’

Ada Mae Ellis bragged about her extensive out-of-state trips, her “casino nights,” new phones, new furniture, new jewelry and new $275,000 home.

Her co-workers at Clay Johnson Auto Sales in Ocean Springs thought her husband was making big bonuses at his job because her of her spending.

Ellis, 32, went out to eat for lunch almost daily and paid for her friend’s car note, car repairs, rental car costs and daycare for her friend’s children and more.

She rented an extra SUV when her family went on a trip because she said they needed more room to haul their stuff.

Ellis told her co-workers she was sick and had mounting medical costs.

Ellis had everybody fooled until authorities stepped in.

Now, she‘s headed to prison.

Ellis pleaded guilty in May to felony embezzlement.

On July 29, Judge Dale Harkey sentenced Ellis, now of Long Beach, to 20 years in prison, with four years to serve and 16 years under post-release supervision. He fined her $1,000 and ordered her to pay $292,283 in restitution.

What she did shattered the trust of her fellow employees and boss and business owner, Clay Johnson.

Johnson had been frugal spender, took care of himself and spent a lifetime building up his business to prepare for his retirement one day. When he found out the money was stolen, he lost his trust in most people.

Nearly two years has passed since Ellis worked as a bookkeeper for Johnson between 2015 and 2017, but he has yet to hire a replacement because he doesn’t trust he’ll pick the right person.

Her co-workers are still hurt and shocked they couldn’t see through her lies.

“Several months in, Ada stated she had become ill,” the officer manager wrote in letter to the judge prior to the sentencing. “I had been through something similar (medically) with no support so I began to help and try and fill in for her as necessary. I made excuses for things she missed. I corrected her errors without ever telling her.

“I stuck up for her when I thought people were being too harsh,” she said. “I told her co-workers she had an illness, so they did her work to help out.”

Johnson, the manager said, had been frugal with his money over the years, taking home a modest salary and eating off the dollar menus at restaurants for meals. He was doing all of it to save for his future.

During the nearly two years it took for the case to make it to court, Johnson had a heart attack, something he told the judge he believes is the result of the stress and anxiety he’s experienced since the crime came to light.

Ellis got caught shortly after her family got their new home using the money she had embezzled from Johnson’s business between 2015 and 2017.

She had forged documents saying she had received bonuses from the business and signed the officer’s manager’s name on it when it went to the mortgage company. She had lied about her salary and submitted fake pay stubs to the bank to try and back up her claims.

Her betrayal affected everyone she had worked with, especially Johnson and the officer manager who had forged a friendship with Ellis.

“Personally, I had so much invested,” the officer manager said. “I cared very deeply about this woman. After I realized what she had done, months of sadness followed. It affected every single person who worked here. I don’t think any of us will ever know the complete truth. There were so many lies told by Ada.”

Ellis, the manager said, was not “some poor sick woman trying to pay medical bills.

“This was blatant ‘I can spend because I have money behavior,’” she wrote.

“Not once since this happened has anyone even asked how it has affected us, the other employees,” she said. “It honestly hurts knowing someone you saw at your job regularly could do such a thing. This place is like a small family. We are all so different but do our best to make work bearable, treat our customers well and help Mr. Johnson run his business.”

The officer manager said she had grown so close to Ellis that she knew the name of her kids and her dogs and knew all of her favorite foods.

“I honestly had no clue she was capable of what she had done,” the manager wrote. “It scares me that someone can lie that well, act that well for us all to believe that she was someone that she wasn’t. This was not my first rodeo with people. I consider myself a person who is capable of judging most folk’s motives. I was fooled.”

After the theft was discovered, Johnson found himself deep in credit card debt, and behind on state and federal payroll taxes. He was in trouble with the state and federal tax commission for something he had no part of.

“I have worked many years, many hours every week and often nights building my business,” he told the judge. “Paying off mortgages and building equity, assets and inventory. I was finally getting to the point I thought I could reap some of the rewards of all of those years of hard work. I had hopes to take a vacation, take some time off and begin to think about retirement.”

But because of the money that was stolen from him and his subsequent heart attack, he now owes over $100,000 in medical bills and said he will be dealing with other financial issues for years because of what happened.

“Ada stole from me for 2 1/2 years,” Johnson said. “Each and every single time this was a conscious decision. She did this over and over and over again, with increasing amounts and could have stopped at any time.

“She did this with no remorse,” he said. “Each time, she frivolously spent the stolen money.”

The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case.

Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.
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