Oct, 2014 – BEAUFORT — The former office manager of a Morehead City physician’s office was convicted Tuesday in Carteret County Superior Court to felony embezzlement and fraud charges. Read about her arrest here.

District Attorney Scott Thomas announced Wednesday 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.

Presiding Superior Court Judge John Nobles sentenced Ms. Branche to four consecutive eight- to 17-month sentences, which were suspended after she entered her guilty pleas and immediately paid $100,000 by certified check to begin repayment of restitution to the medical practice.

“A prompt and genuine restitution effort was smart move by Branche. She avoided going to jail because of this.”

“Compensating the victim is the first step towards leniency. “

William Hiltz

Ms. Branche had been employed as the office manager at Sea Breeze Family Practice in Morehead City, where her duties included bookkeeping, payroll and insurance processing. According to the district attorney’s office, Ms. Branche embezzled more than $150,000, including patient payments, during a period of time between January 2010 and June 2013.

An accounting audit and subsequent criminal investigation revealed Ms. Branche’s wrongdoing.

The case was prosecuted by Eastern North Carolina Financial Crimes Prosecutor Tonya Montanye, who is assigned by the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys to handle complex financial crimes arising in a number of Eastern North Carolina counties, including Mr. Thomas’ office.

In addition to the suspended sentences, Ms. Branche was placed on supervised probation for five years in order to repay the remaining $53,059 in restitution.

Judge Nobles also ordered Ms. 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. Ms. was ordered not to have contact with the practice, the doctor or staff, or their families.

If Ms. Branche violates her probation and it is revoked, she will have to serve a minimum of 32 months in prison, according to the district attorney’s office.

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