“We were all pawns in Donna’s game:” Employees denounce ex-CEO’s embezzlement in letters to judge | Crime News

Employees of a tool company in Hickory condemned their former CEO Donna Steele as a manipulative liar in letters to a federal judge meant to influence the sentencing in Steele’s embezzlement case.

Steele pleaded guilty in January, admitting to embezzling more than $15 million from TIGRA USA, a Germany-based Hickory-based tool company. She used the embezzled funds for lavish personal purchases and a side business.

She is currently awaiting sentencing. Steele faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In letters published in Steele’s case this week, three current TIGRA employees who worked at the company during Steele’s tenure made it clear to Judge Kenneth Bell that they believed Steele deserved a harsh sentence.

Kasie Mooneyham, Kyle Chapman and Sarah Holm presented a damning portrayal of Steele as a master manipulator and habitual liar who created an environment of “perpetual paranoia and anxiety”.

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All three employees pointed to signs of trouble at the company during Steele’s tenure.

They described cut health insurance coverage, rejected company credit cards, erratic changes to employee compensation schedules, and Steele’s alienation of customers due to demands that they pay early.

Steele would blame the pay and cash irregularities on the company’s German owners while isolating his colleagues from the owners, ordering them not to communicate with the owner and to include him in communications with the owner, according to the employees.

Mooneyham recalled that Steele ordered him to put posted documents such as bank statements and overdue letters in Mooneyham’s car while German officials were visiting.

“She explained to me that the courier would only confuse them and she would review them when they left,” Mooneyham wrote.

She added: ‘I never asked her about it because I trusted her and I never thought there was any other reason to do this. We were all pawns in Donna’s game.

Mooneyham also recalled that Steele used his own credit card in some cases to pay charges when the company card was declined.

“His personal card would never be dismissed,” Mooneyham wrote.

Mooneyham, Chapman and Holm described a work environment where employees were belittled and turned against each other.

Chapman wrote that Steele “created an atmosphere of fear and instability in the workplace” and “hired all of his staff as young, impressionable people, then conditioned them to fit his narrative” .

Holm wrote that she was hired at 23 and that working under Steele “had a detrimental and lasting impact on my mental and emotional health.” She remembers being bombarded by angry customers unhappy with the company’s service and having to work overtime to keep those customers happy.

Two other letters, also critical of Steele, were submitted for court consideration in March. As of 2 p.m. Thursday, no supporting letter from Steele has been released in his filing.

Steele’s attorney, Christopher Fialko, did not respond to a request for comment on the letters as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

Kevin Griffin is the Hickory City Reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.

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