Former CEO to pay full restitution in $15M embezzlement scheme

TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — The name of a woman who confessed to an embezzlement scheme worth millions is now starting to disappear across Taylorsville.

Donna Steele pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $15 million from a Hickory business over seven years. She used some of the money to pay for her lavish lifestyle and family businesses.

Over the last couple of months, the Steele name has been removed from storefronts and other buildings. Even a billboard with the Steele name on it is now available after her wedding venue down the road was sold.

After pleading guilty, Channel 9 now knows that as part of her plea agreement, Steele has agreed to pay full restitution in the embezzlement case and is liquidating her assets, according to court documents.

Assets like this wedding venue in Alexander County, where Seth Couch planned on being married in May.

He shared these photos taken as Steele gave him and his fiancé a tour. He paid more than $3,000, only to find out the business had suddenly closed earlier in 2022.

“I started freaking out. We didn’t know what we were doing because we didn’t get an email a text message a phone call or anything about what to do,” Couch said.

He said after several phone calls, he was able to get his money back, but the new property owner, Kerrie Carter, told Channel 9 that Steele has not reimbursed all of the brides.

Carter wrote to the judge handling Steele’s embezzlement case saying: “Ms. Steele has shown no remorse to or sentiment to what she has done to brides and their families for their special and memorable day.”

A wedding planner also wrote to the judge about Steele, claiming: ″She tried to scam my bride out of about $2,000 worth of furniture the bride had wanted to rent from a third party (Julie Vega, Wedding Planner).”

Seth Couch said it took weeks to get his money back. He admits it was a difficult time for his bride-to-be.

“She was up most of the night, crying, stressing out about it, because this is one of the best days of her life,” he said.

The judge could also consider that in the 1990s, Steele was jailed for her role in another embezzlement case where she was accused of stealing half a million dollars from a family-owned business near Winston-Salem.

(WATCH BELOW: Former CEO pleads guilty to embezzling more than $15M to fund lavish lifestyle)