MACON, Ga. (WRBL) — A resident of Eatonton, Georgia, was sentenced to 24 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of bank fraud, according to the United States Attorneys Office for Middle District Georgia.

Court documents say that Alicia Merritt, 48, stole from various small businesses as she worked as a bookkeeper. The theft was discovered in Feb. 2020 by the owner of Willow Oaks Landscape.

Meritt had worked for the small, family business for over a decade and was “trusted completely” by the owners until the business continued to lose money. While the business was seeing a dip in profits, Meritt was allegedly writing checks to vendors and to herself for non-existent reimbursements, as well as cutting payroll checks for former employees, then proceeding to cash those checks for herself.

This totaled up to around $108,068. Additionally, Meritt admitted to charging about $5,382 in personal expenses on the company credit card.

Willow Oaks Landscape was not the only business affected — local Eatonton businesses, The Meat Shed and Vape on the Lake, also employed Meritt for financial management. At these businesses, Meritt handled business tax payments to the Georgia Department of Revenue and IRS.

In 2019, Meritt convinced the owner that she could better handle the tax payments if he wrote her checks for the amount owed and she paid the tax to the fitting revenue agency. Meritt proceeded to keep the money for herself, without paying the owed taxes.

Merritt stole at least $33,209 from these two local businesses.

U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary says that fraud like this can impact the whole community.

“The defendant has admitted her wrong-doing and has been held accountable for deceiving three local businesses in her community,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Whether a trusted employee steals $100,000 or $1,000,000, fraud ultimately harms lives and can negatively affect a community, as seen in this case. Working with our law enforcement partners, we want to protect hard-working citizens and do everything in our power to stop fraud and restore justice.”

Meritt is now required to pay around $146,660 in restitution, as well as facing four years of supervised release upon completion of her prison sentence.

This case was investigated by FBI.