Woman pleads guilty to big time embezzlement

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Special to the County Compass

NEWS1-Embezzlement-mugCARTERET COUNTY – In a statement released Wednesday, District Attorney Scott Thomas announced that Michelle Morris Branche, 47, of Newport pleaded guilty to one count of felony Embezzlement, and three counts of felony Obtaining Property by False Pretense. She was sentenced Oct. 14 in Carteret County Superior Court by Judge John Nobles.

Branche was employed by Sea Breeze Family Practice as the office manager, where her duties included bookkeeping, payroll and insurance processing. From January 2010 to June 2013, Branche embezzled more than $150,000 of money that belonged to the medical office, including patient payments. She also falsified time records and created false patient payment agreements. The embezzled funds were used to secure health and dental insurance for Branche and her family members. An accounting audit and subsequent criminal investigation revealed the wrongdoing.

The case was prosecuted by eastern North Carolina Financial Crimes Prosecutor Tonya Montanye, who is assigned by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to handle complex financial crimes arising in a number of eastern North Carolina counties. She is attached to the office of District Attorney Scott Thomas.


Branche entered her guilty pleas and immediately paid $ 100,000 by certified check to begin repayment of restitution to the medical practice. She was given four consecutive 8-17 month sentences, which were suspended, and she was placed on supervised probation for five years, in order to repay the remaining $ 53,059 in restitution. Judge Nobles also ordered Branche to notify her current employer – and all future employers – of her convictions, and she is not to hold a fiduciary position while on probation.

She was ordered to remain employed full-time, and if not, she is to perform community service full-time until she is again employed. BRANCHE was ordered not to have contact with the practice, the doctor or staff, or their families. If Branche violates her probation and it is revoked, she will be require to serve a minimum of 32 months in prison.