Ownley indicted for embezzling, forgeries

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Sarah Hawkins Ownley

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

An Elizabeth City woman who nearly a year ago gained attention for blasting the city government's bungling of utility billing was recently indicted in Pasquotank County Superior Court for defrauding a local apartment complex where she had previously worked.

Sarah Ownley, 44, of the 300 block of Adams Creek Road, was charged by the grand jury on Feb. 26 with one count of embezzling. The grand jury also charged Ownley with six counts of committing forgery and uttering forged paper, specifically by obtaining $2,735 from bogus money orders. 

Ownley’s defense attorney, Danny Glover, in an email late last week, said he and his client aren’t at liberty to comment about the specific allegations.

However, Glover said, “I can say Ms. Ownley is anxious to work with the authorities to clear up any misunderstandings or confusion regarding the financial records involved and to get this matter resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved as quickly as possible.”

The indictment charging Ownley with embezzling states she took an unspecified amount of money from the South Carolina-based InterMark apartment management company for her own use between the start of June 2016 and early November 2017.

InterMark’s portfolio includes the River’s Edge and River’s Retreat apartment complex at Elizabeth Crossing, which is just off U.S. Highway 17 and behind the local Farm Fresh supermarket. Police said Ownley had previously worked at the apartment complex as property manager.

The indictments charging Ownley with forgeries state she received a total of $2,735 from counterfeit money orders from June 2016 to July 2017. 

Those six indictments state that, in each instance, Ownley marked out the payee’s name, wrote in her name as the payee and deposited the funds into her account.

According to the indictments, the most she deposited to herself in one instance was $750 from a money order in July 2017.

The indictments state she deposited $500 each from money orders in four other instances: in July 2016; in August 2016; in November 2016; and in February 2017.

The lowest amount she deposited was $35 from a money order in June 2016, the indictments state.

The case surfaced in Pasquotank District Court after Elizabeth City police arrested Ownley on Dec. 1.

An affidavit dated Nov. 22 from police Detective Kevin Burgess, as part of the district court file, outlines what prompted the police department to launch a probe of Ownley.

The affidavit stated police officers on Aug. 14 were called to the River’s Edge and River’s Retreat apartment complex because InterMark, after conducting a yearly audit at the complex, had discovered Ownley had misappropriated funds.

Burgess stated Ownley’s scheme had been to collect money orders from tenants for their monthly rent payments, then alter the money orders to put them in her name, instead of the complex’s name, so she could receive the funds.

Ownley remains free on $38,000 secured bond.

Prior to the arrest, Ownley had become known locally for harsh criticism of city officials, as part of the Facebook group “Enough is Enough EC.”

The group surfaced amid complaints from residents about what they saw as delayed and questionable utility bills as the municipality was working to switch from an outdated billing system to a new one. 

In June, the City Council, in a 4-2 vote, said Ownley’s history as a customer should be made public.

The city government, in a news release, said Ownley wrongly accused the city of engaging in criminal activities, including falsifying billing information, and wrongly accused the city of engaging in deceit and harassment.

The city government also said Ownley’s account showed her electric service was disconnected 20 times due to non-payments or problems with making payments and also showed four instances of meter tampering.