ATLANTA – Heidi Royal, who was employed as an accountant at an Atlanta-based wealth management firm, has pleaded guilty to federal charges arising from a scheme to defraud one of the firm’s clients.
“Royal exploited the trust placed in her by an elderly client who was unable to manage her own affairs,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Our office continues to prosecute anyone who targets vulnerable members of the community, especially the elderly.”
“It is very disheartening that Royal manipulated a vulnerable victim and stole much of her hard-earned savings after claiming to be a close friend that was supposed to have her best interests in mind,” said Philip Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI will always make it a priority to protect senior citizens from exploitation.”
According to U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges and other information presented in court: Heidi Royal’s employer was registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment adviser. The firm provided investment advice and financial services to C.K., an elderly widow suffering from dementia.
As the firm’s Accounting Manager and Bill-Pay Supervisor, Royal had access to C.K.’s Social Security Number and the usernames and passwords for C.K.’s investment accounts and bank accounts. As part of her duties and responsibilities at the firm, Royal provided professional accounting services and bill-pay services to C.K. for more than 10 years. During that time, Royal gained C.K.’s trust and developed a close personal friendship with her. Royal even told a co-worker at the firm that C.K. was like a grandmother to her.
As a person associated with an investment adviser, Royal owed a fiduciary duty to each of the firm’s clients, including C.K., and Royal was required to act in C.K.’s best interests at all times. Royal was not permitted to pay her own debts and expenses with C.K.’s money.
From approximately June 1, 2010, through March 17, 2021, however, Royal misappropriated approximately $800,000 of C.K.’s money and converted it to her own use.
As part of the scheme, Royal stole C.K.’s annuity payments, wrote more than 200 fraudulent checks on C.K.’s bank accounts, forged C.K.’s endorsement on checks, withdrew cash from C.K.’s bank accounts and converted it to her own use, fraudulently used the electronic bill-pay feature associated with C.K.’s bank accounts to divert money to herself, used PayPal to make electronic payments to herself from C.K.’s bank accounts, impersonated C.K. in telephone conversations with financial institutions; and made false and misleading entries in C.K.’s financial records to make the fraud harder to detect.
In addition, Royal fraudulently used C.K.’s name and Social Security Number to open a secret bank account for the purpose of concealing and disguising the fraud proceeds.
In mid-March 2021, when the firm learned that checks drawn on C.K.’s bank accounts had been deposited into Royal’s personal accounts, the firm immediately terminated Royal and reported the matter to law enforcement.
Heidi Royal, 52, of Dallas, Georgia, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Sentencing is scheduled for May 31, 2022, at 10:00 a.m., before U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Russell Phillips and Elizabeth McBath are prosecuting the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is part of the Department of Justice Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force focuses on investigating and prosecuting defendants associated with foreign-based fraud schemes that disproportionately affect American seniors. These include romance scams, phone scams, mass-mailing fraud schemes, and tech-support fraud schemes. For further information on these scams, see https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/senior-scam-alert.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at [email protected] or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.