Former NC CEO accused of embezzling $15 million accepts plea deal

TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — A Taylorsville woman, charged in a wire fraud embezzlement scheme worth millions, has accepted a plea deal.

Donna Osowitt Steele is accused of embezzling more than $15 million from her employer, Tigra, in Hickory between 2013 and 2020, according to court documents.

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The former CEO has been charged with embezzling more than $15 million from her employer and using stolen money to pay for a lavish lifestyle, including travel, jewelry and family weddings, according to the courts.

Steele also used stolen money to fund personal businesses run by her family, according to a court filing Friday by U.S. Attorney Dena King’s office.

Steele is charged with one count of wire fraud. Online court records don’t list an attorney for her or a date for an initial court appearance.

The company that employed Steele isn’t named in the court filing. But prosecutors said it’s a subsidiary of a foreign corporation and makes carbide products used in saw blades for the woodworking industry. The company owners live overseas, the filing says.

Steele joined the company in 1999 and was serving as its CEO when she was fired in January 2020.

Prosecutors said Steele used company credit cards, checks and wire transfers to steal company funds. She allegedly charged approximately $255,000 for stays at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, more than $500,000 for jewelry, over $200,000 for family wedding expenses and more than $100,000 for flowers.

Steele also transferred more than $350,000 in embezzled money to a high-end clothing and furniture business that she operated called Opulence by Steele, according to the court filing.

Steele is expected to appear in court on Jan. 12 to formally accept the deal.

Reporter Dave Faherty went into Tigra in December and workers said there are about 10,000 employees who work there. They couldn’t comment on the investigation, but the company’s president sent an email to Channel 9 saying, “Thanks for contact us. We are gratified that justice if being done.”

Faherty also stopped by Steele’s Home Market general store on Monday but said the doors were locked and there are “for sale” signs in front. Faherty went to her home in Alexander County but was told no comment and asked to leave.

A couple who works at a coffee shop and sign business down the street from some of the Steele’s family businesses on Main Street in Taylorsville said they were shocked.

“I was just shocked because usually in a small town you hear of something that big,” Heather Cox said.

“Seeing someone come in town and do good things in town, we were all kind of excited. No one had any idea where she was getting the money or how,” Brandon Cox said.

No other details have been released at this point.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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