Stepmother who stole almost $1 million from Grand Reserve sentenced

A crime both small and big businesses are victims of: embezzlement

Ever wonder what embezzlement is? This white collar crime is hurting businesses all over.
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Ever wonder what embezzlement is? This white collar crime is hurting businesses all over.

The 65-year-old Phenix City woman who swindled nearly $1 million from stepson Steve Corbett’s Grand Reserve apartments business has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud.

U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land gave Darlene Corbett that sentence Tuesday following her July 2018 guilty plea. A jury Jan. 9 found Corbett’s co-conspirator in the scheme, Dorita Clay of Selma, Ala., guilty 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Clay, 51, is to be sentenced April 9.

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Corbett admitted embezzling more than $950,000 when she was chief financial officer for the Grand Reserve of Columbus, a position she held from 2009 until she was fired in 2016.

Besides The Grand Reserve of Columbus apartment complex, Steve Corbett developed a second one in Alabama, The Grand Reserve at Madison, and his stepmother in the Columbus office managed accounts for both, authorities said.

From April 30, 2015, to Sept. 21, 2016, Darlene Corbett and Clay conspired to defraud the businesses by writing unauthorized checks and wiring money, investigators said. Darlene Corbett wrote checks to her name or to cash, and wrote checks to Clay in Clay’s name or to “D.L. Clay” or “L. Clay,” authorities said.

Darlene Corbett also wired funds to Clay, sometimes to “D.L. Clay, LLC,” they said.

Corbett claimed Clay persuaded her to send the money for various schemes Clay claimed would pay off later.

Clay at one point claimed she was using the money to pay fees and taxes to settle a multimillion-dollar estate in Michigan that involved property she was trying to sell off, She promised to repay the funds with a profit once the estate paid out.

Clay also claimed she was to receive a $30 million medical malpractice settlement involving her daughter, but first needed funds to pay attorneys’ fees and court costs and such.

A third scheme was more personal: Steve Corbett was to marry a woman Darlene Corbett disliked, and Dorita Clay claimed the fiancée could be paid off to stop the marriage. After the wedding, Clay told the stepmother the marriage could be annulled, if Clay got more money, and Darlene Corbett continued to pay her.

Darlene Corbett so trusted Clay that even after The Grand Reserve fired her in 2016, she paid Clay $500,000 of her own money, exhausting her life’s savings, authorities said.

Clay, meanwhile, used the money to gamble at casinos.

“The defendant is a terrible gambler,” prosecutor Crawford Seals said during closing arguments in Clay’s trial. Much of the money was wagered not on any game requiring skill, but on slot machines engineered to take in more than they pay out, he said.

Among those testifying during Clay’s trial was a representative of the Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia, Miss., who said Clay in 2015 wagered $1.8 million and lost $1.7 million, and the next year bet around $600,000 and lost about $500,000.

Charles Peeler, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, recognized the work of FBI agents who unraveled the complicated schemes, and of Seals’ efforts prosecuting the case.

“The scheme of lies and theft concocted by Ms. Clay, and supported by Ms. Corbett, caused great harm to a reputable business and numerous individuals,” Peeler said. “I want to recognize the good investigative work of our law enforcement partners in helping bring an end to this fraud.”

Have you ever been a victim of a wiring scam? Here are some examples of common ways people try to get money from you.

Tim Chitwood is from Seale, Ala., and started as a police beat reporter with the Ledger-Enquirer in 1982. He since has covered Columbus’ serial killings and other homicides, following some from the scene of the crime to trial verdicts and ensuing appeals. He also has been a Ledger-Enquirer humor columnist since 1987. He’s a graduate of Auburn University, and started out working for the weekly Phenix Citizen in Phenix City, Ala.