A crime both small and big businesses are victims of: embezzlement
The former vice president of Singing River Federal Credit Union in Moss Point pleaded with a judge Thursday to consider giving her house arrest for taking out over $350,000 in fraudulent loans against her grandmother’s estate and in the names of her family, credit union members and friends.
“I am not a bad person, but I did make a mistake,” a tearful Merrideth McMillian said, explaining to the judge that she ended up forging people’s signatures to take out loans so she could keep her two businesses afloat — a gymnastics center and a daycare.
“For years, I was struggling financially and I didn’t feel like I had anybody to turn to,” she said. “What I did was wrong and for the rest of my life, I will do everything I can to make it up. I was robbing Peter to pay Paul. I am not a bad person, but what I did was wrong.”
McMillian cried as she considered the possibility of being sent away to prison, leaving behind her husband and two children, one a senior and the other in junior high school.
SRFCU CEO Jimmy Smith said McMillian was considered a part of the credit union family and that he and others there still love her and are praying for her. But, he said, the credit union’s reputation had been damaged because of her financial crimes and justice had to be served.
Judge Sul Ozerden told McMillian he believed she was remorseful, but sentenced her to 33 months in prison and ordered her to pay $376,152 in restitution.
“This a very serious offense involving the manipulation of our banking system,” Ozerden said. “The loss amount is significant. She essentially used someone else’s identity to commit the offense”
According to federal prosecutor, Kathlyn Van Buskirk, the theft was discovered after a 2018 bank audit uncovered a “web of fraudulent activity.”
An investigation followed after the information was turned over to the FBI.
The crimes began shortly after McMillian first took out a legitimate loan using her grandmother’s estate as collateral, but then went back and removed the property as collateral.
McMillian, 46, of Vancleave, pleaded guilty in March, but her sentencing was delayed until Thursday.
Because of her position at the credit union, McMillian could access the bank’s computer system to commit the crimes.
She took out various fraudulent loans, including 18 in her husband’s name, another 14 in her father’s name and more from other credit union members and a friend.
She was fired after the crime was discovered.
When McMillian was first confronted about the crimes, FBI Agent Shawn Cox said she confessed and admitting to forging signatures to obtain the money.
Before joining SRFCU, McMillian worked at Navigator Credit Union in Pascagoula, for 23 years where she was accused of similar wrongdoing but was never prosecuted.
McMillian later sued Navigator Credit Union, claiming she had been the victim of sex discrimination and retaliation against her by that credit union. Navigator denied these allegations, according to court documents.
In her suit, McMillian alleged the credit union retaliated against her by reporting her to the state’s Department of Human Services for alleged elder abuse involving her grandmother’s account.
McMillian claimed a DHS investigation followed. She later reached a confidential settlement with Navigator.