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ST. LOUIS – A secretary who worked for a family-owned agricultural business in Missouri and embezzled $1.2 million by writing checks to herself was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on Tuesday, federal prosecutors said.

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According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri, Stephanie D. Carper, 51, a former Missouri resident who now lives in Eufaula, Alabama, pleaded guilty in October to a felony bank fraud charge. She was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey and ordered to repay the money she stole, the news release stated.

Carper, who worked for the business in Ralls County, admitted to filling in her own name on at least 44 checks dated between September 2013 and September 2019 that had been pre-signed by the company’s owner and his relatives, the Herald-Whig newspaper of Quincy, Illinois, reported.

The checks were intended to pay vendors, KHQA-TV reported. Carper would write false explanations on bank deposit slips and the company’s check registry to conceal the thefts, according to the television station.

Prosecutors said Carper used the money to buy a 2015 Nissan Murano SUV, a 2016 Toyota Tundra pickup and a Caterpillar 247 skid loader, the news release stated. She also spent some of the cash on vacations to Alaska and other locations.

“Stephanie Carper shamelessly abused the good nature, sympathy and trust of the owners of a family business in rural Missouri,” Jay Greenberg, an agent with the FBI’s St. Louis Division, said in a statement. “After being hired as a secretary, she paid the owners back by robbing them blind.”

The vehicles and $31,000 in a bank account have been seized to help repay Carper’s debt, prosecutors said.

A letter to the court on behalf of the victims said the family was forced to sell their business for a reduced amount because a co-founder was ill and profits were falling, prosecutors said.

“Had the company books reflected their true profits, the family would have either kept the business to support the next generation or been able to sell it for more money,” authorities said in the news release. “The damage done is irreparable. All that (the founders) worked for was lost with the damage that Ms. Carper did.”

Richard H. Sindel, Carper’s attorney, said in a statement that the sentence was disappointing.

“We were disappointed by the sentence although it was not a surprise, in part because of the allegation that the embezzlement was at least part of the reason that the business was failing,” Sindel told McClatchy News. “Ms. Carper has the support of her family, her friends, and her church group. That always helps.”