An office manager who drove a Doylestown medical practice to the brink of financial ruin by stealing more than $415,000 over a six-year span was sentenced Thursday to serve one to three years in state prison.
“You did it by essentially looting from your friends and colleagues,” Bucks County President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley told Michelle Lightbourne, 37, of Quakertown. “It was as if each week you reached into their pockets … and took money from them.”
Lightbourne admitted to several schemes by which she furtively engaged in an ongoing course of thievery at Doylestown Internal Medicine, where she had worked for 14 years, the last seven as office manager.
In pleading guilty to an array of theft- and computer-related felonies, Lightbourne acknowledged taking roughly $82,000 in unauthorized overtime, $94,000 in cash from daily receipts, $145,000 in personal expenses charged to the office’s credit card, and using office funds to pay her Verizon bills, personal credit cards, loan payments and other debts – all while falsifying the books to cover her tracks.
Among her purchases were tickets for concerts and NASCAR races, and catering for her wedding, said Deputy District Attorney Marc J. Furber, who prosecuted the case. She has repaid about $12,000 to date, Furber said.
By the time her plundering came to light in late 2016, the practice was broke, unable to pay its 19 employees and meet operating expenses. Lightbourne already had laid off four workers and the practice’s three doctors borrowed more than $100,000 from their own retirement funds to pay the others. Fifteen workers lost their healthcare insurance for six weeks because Lightbourne had not paid the premiums.
“After confronting Michelle with her apparent theft, her reasoning was `we were not paying her enough,’” said Dr. Phil Myers, one of the partners in the practice. Lightbourne’s salary was $72,000, he said, which she secretly raised to $93,000 in 2015 by padding it with overtime hours.
Myers called it “devastating to find out someone who was part of the practice family for 14 years was stealing from us for years; even more devastating [was] the harm to those who lost their jobs, lost healthcare, worried about job security. We hope Michelle recognizes that her crimes did not just affect the lives of those she worked for, but the lives of those who worked for her, and their families as well.”
A tearful Lightbourne blamed an alcoholic ex-husband for burning through their money, saying, “My regular pay was not sufficient for his habits.”
Addressing her former colleagues, she said: “I can’t express in words how sorry I am for my actions … I never intended to hurt them or the practice.”
Finley brushed off Lightbourne’s suggestion that her thefts arose from any financial necessity.
“A lot of times there’s an explanation that has a grain of truth, a grain of need,” the judge said. “But your case … is one of narcissism, greed and vanity.”
In addition to the prison time, Finley sentenced Lightbourne to five years of concurrent probation, and ordered her to pay $403,736.86 in restitution to the three doctors who had employed her. The judge expressed little hope that she would be able to fully reimburse them.
Calling herself “a great mother,” Lightbourne asked Finley for a delayed surrender date so that she could make arrangements for her two sons.
Finley instead ordered her handcuffed and jailed immediately, wondering aloud why she had not already taken care of such matters.
“Let me take a wild guess,” the judge said. “You were only thinking of yourself.”
The case was investigated by Detectives Anthony Breslau of the Doylestown Township Police Department and Eric Landamia of the Bucks County Detectives.