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Ex-HP top aide in the clink for racking up $1m on company credit cards

It's hard to cover your tracks when you wear $8,000 outfits

A former HP employee was sentenced on Monday to 21 months in prison, after having charged unauthorized personal expenses to her company credit cards to the tune of nearly $1m.

According to a statement by the US Attorney's Office, Holli Dawn Coulman, 45, joined HP in 2000 and spent 12 years at the company. During the last four, she served as an executive assistant to an unnamed senior vice president, who is identified in court documents only by the initials "LP."

It should be no surprise that the company gave her a number of corporate American Express cards for business expenses. What is surprising, though, is how high her personal charges to those cards got once she got carried away.

According to prosecutor's complaint, Coulman used the cards to "support an extravagant and luxurious lifestyle," treating herself to trips to Hawaii and Europe and stays at lavish spas and resorts.

Her bill at the Pebble Beach golf resort was in excess of $43,000 (£27,400). She spent $100,000 (£63,740) at the La Costa Resort Spa – and that one was located in Carlsbad, California, where she lived.

She didn't stop there, either. She reportedly spent thousands of dollars at the Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus department stores, and thousands more at the Apple Store. She spent $33,000 (£21,000) on off-road motorcycling gear. In one instance, she spent in excess of $8,000 on clothes in just one trip to St. John, an upscale clothing store that specializes in women's knits.

In her most brazen stroke of all, she used the company cards to pay off $350,000 (£223,100) worth of her brother's business debts. All told, Coulman is thought to have fleeced HP for $954,292.31 (£608,310) over her last four years at the company.

Prosecutors say she would routinely cover her tracks by intercepting and destroying emails from coworkers who questioned the validity of her purchases before her boss, the unnamed senior veep, could see them. Other times, she would even submit forged expense reports, complete with faked-up receipts and invoices, to make it look as though her boss had approved the charges.

Following an FBI investigation, Coulman pleaded guilty to wire fraud last year, and on Monday US District Judge Michael Anello of the Southern District of California imposed a custodial sentence. Coulman got off easy; prosecutors had asked for her to be locked up for 27 months, but the maximum sentence the judge could have imposed was 20 years.

Coulman was also ordered to pay off the amount she embezzled in installments of $3,000 per month. At that rate, assuming she starts making the payments immediately and continues them while she's in prison, the debt should be paid off by the time she's 72. ®

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