A former office worker at an Annapolis-based technology company pleaded guilty Friday to bank fraud, admitting that she stole more than $1 million from her employer, money she spent on a race car, fishing boats and other personal luxuries.
When Joanna L. Cook first began to embezzle, in 2000, she was a low-level employee in the accounts payable office at TeleCommunications Systems Inc. She started small, but by the time the company detected the crime in October 2003, Cook had stolen $1.1 million, including almost $350,000 in August.
Cook, 31, of Edgewater, said little Friday as she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before Judge Catherine C. Blake. The crime is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, according to the plea document. Cook remains free until her sentencing Aug. 26.
Her attorney, Timothy D. Murnane, said Cook had paid $636,000 in restitution to the company. "Every asset we could liquidate, we did," he said outside of court.
Some of that money -- more than $250,000, according to Murnane -- was generated by auctioning off indulgences collected by Cook and her husband, Terry, including a Mustang Mach-1 race car, three Harley-Davidson motorcycles and two fishing boats.
"She bought a lot of stuff, I think, for her husband," said Russell Gardner, a lawyer who represented the company in its efforts to recover the stolen money. Another lawyer for the company, C. Kevin Kobbe, said a "large portion" of the money was used as a contract deposit on a home the Cooks were building in Calvert County. He said more than $100,000 was retrieved from the builder.
Murnane suggested that a psychiatric condition may have contributed to Cook's actions.
Murnane said outside of court that Cook would not comment.