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Emmett woman sentenced for $1.2M embezzlement

An Idaho woman who pleaded guilty to embezzling $1.2 million from her former employer has been sentenced to four to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution.

Sonia Jean Branch of Emmett was sentenced Nov. 26 by 3rd District Judge Molly J. Huskey. Branch was given credit for about six months served.

Caldwell police arrested Branch in February after an investigation found she had been stealing money from High Desert Wall Systems, where she had worked as a bookkeeper for nearly 20 years. The investigation found she took more than $1.2 million, beginning in February 2006, mostly by writing checks to herself or writing checks to pay her bills.

Owner Franklin Freeman said Branch was taking money meant to pay the company’s payroll taxes.

“She would give me a report that she was making the payroll taxes. In all honesty, she was not making the payroll taxes. That’s where she was getting the money,” Freeman told KTVB-TV.

The thefts came to light a year ago. Freeman said the company was having a good year and he told Branch to get Carhartt coats for all the employees and put a $100 bill in their pocket for Christmas. He also gave her a $1,000 bonus.

Two weeks later, Freeman said Branch told him they couldn’t afford the coats.

That month, Freeman said Branch stole $17,000 from the company.

Branch, 59, reached a plea agreement in July on four counts of felony theft.

The conviction wasn’t Branch’s first for stealing from an employer.

In 1998, she was convicted of embezzling more than $200,000 from a trucking company in Gooding and served four years in prison. During that same time, she was charged with stealing about $16,000 from a company in Elko, Nev.

Canyon County prosecutors did not return phone calls the morning of Nov. 27 seeking information on what Branch might have done with the money.

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