Business owner swindled out of millions forgives accused - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

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Business owner swindled out of millions forgives accused

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Ernie Ketcham was forced to close his doors when one of his own employees was accused of stealing millions. Ernie Ketcham was forced to close his doors when one of his own employees was accused of stealing millions.
Irene Marie Brooner has been charged with embezzling nearly $3 million from a bank and Galvmet Inc., a sheet metal fabrication and steel service company that closed earlier this year. Irene Marie Brooner has been charged with embezzling nearly $3 million from a bank and Galvmet Inc., a sheet metal fabrication and steel service company that closed earlier this year.
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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Owning a business can be the American dream, but for one Kansas City man, it was a nightmare.

Ernie Ketcham was forced to close his doors when one of his own employees was accused of stealing millions.

Irene Marie Brooner has been charged with embezzling nearly $3 million from a bank and Galvmet Inc., a sheet metal fabrication and steel service company that closed earlier this year.

A federal grand jury indicted the 52-year-old on Tuesday on several counts of wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. She made her initial court appearance Tuesday.

Not only was Brooner an employee, but Ketcham also considered her a friend. Some of her co-workers even say she was the last person they would suspect of anything fishy.

Mike Orndorff loved working for Galvmet, and for the former Marine who owned the sheet metal company.

"He was one of the greatest guys to ever work for," Orndorff said.

When Galvmet, Inc., shut its doors in May, Orndorff was less upset about losing his job than about the owner losing his business.

"The impact has been devastating," said Ketcham, who built the sheet metal business from the ground up 22 years ago.

Ketcham said the mass layoff of 20 employees was gut-wrenching.

"We were like a family. I mean, there was a lot of tears shed on both sides ... a lot of hugging," Ketcham said.

At the time, he thought the problem was a long-run of soft sales. No one at the company suspected Brooner, 52, the controller, would be accused of siphoning $2 million from the family business.

A grand jury indicted Brooner for that and a million-dollar bank fraud scheme.

"To know the woman, to talk to her and to be around her, you wouldn't think that this was going on at all. It floored me," Orndorff said.

Ketcham said Brooner's family ate at his table and visited his church, but the betrayal brings no resentment.

"What was really devastating is her family, because it is a neat family. And I talked to her husband last night, and he is just crushed," Ketcham said.

But Orndorff isn't ready to forgive like his boss has.

"It is disappointing for all of us, because we really enjoyed working for it. It was like a family down there. And you knew you could trust them, and you knew you could count on them. Then somebody like this does this to you. It kind of takes away the trust," Orndorff said.

The investigation began after the business closed its doors, when the owner went to the bank to close out a loan and discovered their numbers didn't match his.

KCTV5's Betsy Webster tried to contact Brooner at her home, but no one answered the door.

The fraud allegedly occurred for a decade. Prosecutors say Brooner used the money for personal expenses and lavish living, including remodeling and stocking a basement bar in her home, travel, jewelry and spa visits.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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