By Patti Weaver


  (Stillwater, Okla.)  — A former manager of Benchmark Animal Hospital in rural Perkins has been accused of embezzling $24,322 between January of 2020 and September of 2021.
    Laura Ashle Smith, 39, of Choctaw, has not yet been arraigned on the felony charge that was filed in Payne County District Court last week.
    If convicted, Smith could be imprisoned for as long as eight years and fined $10,000, court records show.
    Payne County Sheriff’s Investigator Brandon Myers had been contacted in August by the animal hospital owner, who alleged Smith embezzled $16,506.40 by using a business credit card to pay for her personal items, an affidavit said.
    Among items purchased by Smith on the business credit card were two charges of $378.97 to an airlines on June 29, 2021, $463.44 to a vacation rental network on April 5, 2021, and various charges including to a sports bar, grocery store and food delivery business, the affidavit alleged.
    In mid-September, the owner “learned while conducting an audit of her business account that Ashle had been receiving payments, logging them in, then taking the cash back out, and deleting the transactions,” the affidavit alleged.
    In January of 2021, “Ashle wrote a check for the amount of $2,437.18 to pay the account,” of a relative, the affidavit alleged. “Ashle showed the check on the account, refunded the amount to herself, deleted that transaction, and then never turned over the check to (the business’s) bookkeeper,” the affidavit alleged.
    “The total amount of cash that Ashle embezzled between August of 2020 and August of 2021 is $7,816.58,” the affidavit alleged.
    When the investigator talked to the owner of a Choctaw business where the defendant’s boyfriend worked, “He said that he has had issues with money with Ashle before. He said they had borrowed money to purchase a car and he dealt with bad payments to him from Ashle. He said that situation had resolved itself.
    “He told me that the PayPal payment from Ashle to his business was for an air conditioner for that same car. He told me that the charge has since been disputed and the money returned through the original credit card company linked to that PayPal account. (He) said his business is now out the $1,350,” the investigator alleged in his affidavit.
    The Benchmark Animal Hospital owner “did provide an email and numerous text messages from Ashle admitting to the theft by way of embezzlement through the credit card to pay personal items and also taking cash that customers had paid on their bills,” the investigator alleged in his affidavit.
    “Total amount of embezzlement with credit cards and cash taken from the hospital is $24,322.98,” the affidavit alleged.