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Ex-employee admits to bilking AEP; prosecutors say up to $1.6 million taken

A former employee in the credit department of American Electric Power has admitted to a scheme that federal prosecutors say defrauded the company of up to $1.6 million over more than a dozen years.

Gregory Thomas Holland, 63, of Moneta, pleaded guilty Monday to wire fraud and filing a false tax return.

He will be sentenced later in what could potentially be the largest such case in recent years for Roanoke’s federal court.

As a collections support coordinator in Appalachian Power Co.’s downtown Roanoke office, Holland was responsible for managing the company’s interests when a customer filed for bankruptcy. In 2001, he opened a personal checking account using the utility’s name and address without the knowledge of anyone else in the company, according to a news release Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As part of bankruptcy proceedings, checks were written on the behalf of utility customers to settle their delinquent bills and sent to the Appalachian office. There, authorities say, Holland placed them in the checking account, which he used to purchase cars and clothing and pay country club dues, among other things.

Holland admitted to depositing more than 300 checks in the account between 2002 and 2018.

“When we uncovered the conduct, we referred the matter to the authorities and assisted them with their investigation,” Appalachian spokeswoman Teresa Hall wrote in an email Tuesday. “No customers were adversely affected by his actions.”

Because Holland handled accounts for more than one utility company, he was employed by AEP, which is Appalachain’s parent company.

“Mr. Holland has taken responsibility in this matter and has communicated cooperatively with the government in these regards,” his defense attorney, John Lichtenstein, said in a statement.

“He has lived a life of substantial achievement and service to others and is committed to handling this responsibly moving forward.”

The charge of filing a false tax return states that in 2015, Holland reported to the Internal Revenue Service that his income was $321,231, knowing that it was in fact higher.

Following his guilty pleas Monday, he was allowed to remain free on bond. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Sept. 10, at which time he will face up to 20 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors estimate that Holland stole $1.6 million from AEP. An exact amount will be determined by a judge at his sentencing.

Although the case could be the largest embezzlement in recent years in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, others in the more distant past have involved even more money.

In 1994, a former trust administrator for a Martinsville bank was sentenced to four years in prison for taking an estimated $5 million from the accounts of a textile heiress to finance a lavish lifestyle.

And in 2005, a man who called himself a “financial pastor” was sentenced to 21 years for a Ponzi scheme that authorities said swindled $7 million from investors he recruited at churches and religious organizations across the United States.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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