A Columbus woman who in 2013 skimmed money from customers’ accounts while she was a temporary worker in the collections division of Synovus Financial Corp. will serve five years in prison and 25 on probation.
After Teresha Shanta Cole pleaded guilty Monday to 10 counts of identity fraud and one of computer theft, Superior Court Judge Ron Mullins ordered the 30-year-old to pay $77,950 to ACS Student Loan Services and $25,252 to Synovus.
Assistant District Attorney James Barrow said the payment to Synovus is not to cover the thefts but the company’s cost to investigate the crimes and establish security measures to prevent further loss. Because Cole worked for a temp service, she did not undergo the security checks required of a Synovus employee, Barrow said.
An odd twist to the case was that Cole in 2006 fraudulently used financial information and forged the signature of a 56-year-old woman as a cosigner on a student loan to attend Columbus State University, then made payments on the loan with money taken from Synovus accounts, Barrow said.
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The scam came to light when Cole, who never attended CSU, stopped making the payments, prompting the loan company to contact the cosigner, who denied any knowledge of the transaction, he said.
Attorneys said Cole got the financial information for a student loan cosigner while working for a mortgage company.
A warrant leading to Cole’s July 24, 2014, arrest said she worked for Synovus from May 10 to Dec. 16, 2013, during which she accessed 97 accounts for a loss of $319,053, but Barrow said a full accounting found 122 fraudulent transfers with a total value of $330,755.
An indictment listed accounts for Georgia businesses such as Fernandina Shores Condominiums Association on Amelia Island, Pineland Telephone Cooperative of Metter, and Gutters Plus of Marietta, along with three individuals that included a 68-year-old man living in Grayson, Ga., and a 78-year-old woman.
Cole used pilfered funds also to send money to her family in Mississippi and to shop, making some retail purchases attorneys described as frivolous.
Financially she was not in dire straits, and didn’t need the money she stole, Barrow said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous waste and greed.”
He credited Synovus investigators with compiling a detailed case against Cole in a file nearly four inches thick. “Their investigative team has done a bang-up job,” Barrow said.
Besides sentencing Cole to serve prison time plus probation and to pay restitution, Mullins banished her from the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.