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CALDWELL An Emmett woman is heading back to prison, convicted of a similar crime that sent her to prison in the 1980s.

59-year-old Sonia Branch was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for stealing more than $1 million from her employer - High Desert Wall Systems in Caldwell.

The theft happened over a seven-year period, and that's just what the victims can prove. They believe the real figure is closer to $2 million.

She was as much family as anybody with a small company atmosphere, said company president Frank Freeman.

What's shocking to High Desert Wall Systems was that they were Branch's latest victim. There were others before them.

About 25 years ago she spent four years in prison for doing the same thing to another employer in Gooding - ultimately bankrupting them.

High Desert Wall Systems is a plastering company that has done work on buildings in BoDo and The Village in Meridian. The company was hit hard earlier this year when word of the embezzlement began to surface.

It all surrounded Branch who had been with the company for 19 years.

She would give me a report that she was making the payroll taxes. In all honesty, she was not making the payroll taxes. That's where she was getting the money, said Freeman.

At first Freeman found checks written by Branch to Branch with totals ranging from $2,000 to $1,700. But a deeper look began to reveal just how much money she took.

In the past seven years she forged 791 checks and then misused over 100 more. In total, she stole $1.2 million.

You have mixed emotions and stuff, especially somebody that's been with you that long, but angry is not a good word. You hate, hate's a good word. I mean I absolutely hate and will never forgive her, said Freeman.

In July, Branch and prosecutors reached a plea agreement. Tuesday morning Branch was sentenced in a Canyon County courtroom. She addressed the court, mainly speaking to Mary Freeman who hired Branch in 1994.

I will pray often that someday you will find it in your heart to somehow forgive me for all the damage I've caused. That is very important to me for what it is worth, said Branch.

Now, Frank Freeman is being as vocal as he can about what happened, hoping other businesses don't fall victim. In fact, he says other businesses have already told him they have changed their practices because of his story.

No, I don't believe I was naive, I believe that I was trusting, just too trusting. You can't trust anybody with your money. That's all there is to it, said Frank Freeman. Have your bank statements sent to your house to where you can open them up and check, just it's as simple as that.

Last November Freeman says the company was having a good year. He told Branch to get Carhart coats for all the employees and put a $100 bill in their pocket for Christmas. He also gave her a $1,000 bonus.

Two weeks later she told him they couldn't afford the coats.

That month, Freeman says she stole $17,000 from the company.

In 1988 Branch was charged and convicted for stealing over $200,000 from Basterrechea Distributing Company in Gooding.

During that same time she stole roughly $16,000 from a company in Elko, Nevada. She spent four years in prison for those crimes.

Branch was sentenced Tuesday to a 20-year sentence for four counts of grand theft. Four of those years are fixed, 16 indeterminate. She will also get about a half a year credit for time served.

She is also ordered to pay full restitution, but few involved in the case expect that to happen.

I don't think we'll get anything out of it, said Freeman. I don't think there is anything left. I think it's all gone.

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