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'She was like a daughter to us'
Bookkeeper allegedly stole $500K

BUFORD - Susan Bullock feels betrayed. A woman who weeks ago was like a daughter to her is accused of ripping her off for more than $500,000.

Bullock warns other small business owners to not be so blinded by trust.

Gwinnett police have charged Michelle Lynn Sanchez, 34, of Gainesville, with stealing at least $500,000 from Jay Bullock Companies, a Buford-based commercial and residential developer owned by Bullock's husband.

Sanchez faces one count of theft by taking, a felony. She turned herself in to investigators last Friday and was released the next day on $110,100 bond.

Sanchez had been responsible for the small company's bookkeeping for 10 years, Bullock said. As a show of gratitude, the Bullocks built a home for Sanchez in a subdivision they'd developed.

"She was like a daughter to us - we had absolutely no idea this could ever happen," Bullock said. "Everybody loved her. She was a very gregarious, happy-acting person."

Police said Sanchez wrote at least seven unauthorized checks to a framing business run by her and her husband, A.M. Sanchez and Sons Inc. She also used the Bullock's money to pay utility bills, credit card debt, make purchases for a property she owned in Gainesville and another she wanted to buy in Banks County, police said.

Bullock said the long-time employee used company funding to pay for huge phone bills when her husband, an illegal immigrant, was detained in Mexico recently.

Bullock said she first noticed something was amiss in July, when the ownership of the company's bank changed. Her husband filed a police report

Oct. 12.

A flourishing building industry had made it difficult for the Bullocks to keep tabs on the ebb and flow of expenses. Sanchez was also a skilled scrapbooker and was good at fudging bank statements, Bullock said.

"We're in the building business, so it's a lot of cash flowing in and out," Bullock said. "It was hard to keep up with that aspect of it until the market slowed down.

"Then she had a hard time covering her tracks."

Bullock hopes to recoup some of the missing money but isn't optimistic that will happen. She said the company has been forced to cash in assets to cover unpaid bills.

The company, which employs five people, has developed property in Gwinnett and surrounding counties since 1986. The Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association named it "Home Builder of the Year" a decade ago.

Bullock hopes her struggles with theft can serve as a cautionary tale.

"Small business owners really need to be aware - you can never be too careful," she said. "We have all bank statements sent to our house now."