ST. JOSEPH — An Indiana woman has been charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from a business in Baroda where she was employed as the office manager.
She is alleged to have stolen money by writing herself extra payroll checks and forging her boss’s name on the signature line.
Lorraine Annette Branum, 59, of Granger, is charged with one count of embezzlement over $100,000, a 20-year felony; and three counts of uttering and publishing, a 14-year felony.
Jeff Taylor, chief trial attorney in the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office, said Branum has been arraigned on the charges in Berrien County Trial Court and posted a $5,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for June 11.
It is alleged that Branum stole money from Arrowhead Vineyard in Baroda, in increments, between Nov. 10, 2018, and Jan. 31, 2020.
According to court records, Dan Nitz and fiancee Portia Braddock discovered the alleged embezzlement on Feb. 12 and called police, requesting that an officer be on site when they fired Branum.
When Branum arrived to work that day, the responding officer read her her rights and began questioning her, according to court documents. She at first told police she had signed Nitz’s name on a few payroll checks because he had missed hers when signing checks.
When the officer advised her that some of the checks in question were in addition to her regular payroll checks, she then said she had written herself an additional paycheck “a few times” because she was having financial difficulties, according to court records.
According to a police report obtained through Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, an investigation revealed that 186 checks totaling $118,869 had been allegedly forged.
Branum began working for Arrowhead Vineyard in November, 2018. As office manager, she took care of all office functions including computer functions and payroll.
According to the police report, the first check in question was dated Nov. 10, 2018, and the final one was dated Jan. 31, 2020.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included a couple of misspellings of Annette Branum's last name.