Former Primis Bank employee pleads guilty in $2.4M embezzlement scheme

primis sign

Primis Bank is headquartered in Henrico Count. (BizSense file photo)

A former longtime employee of locally based Primis Bank is facing federal prison time after pleading guilty this week to an embezzlement scheme the bank first discovered and disclosed last summer.

James Stevens, who worked at Primis and its predecessors Sonabank, EVB and Southside Bank from 2000 to 2023, struck a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday and admitted to stealing nearly $2.5 million from his employer.

Stevens, a 46-year-old resident of Weems, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and agreed to pay restitution to the bank of $2.47 million.

The former commercial lender and branch manager stole the money through a loan scheme that ran from 2008 through June 2023. The scam, according to court filings, came to an end when Stevens was hospitalized last year and unable to maintain payments on fraudulently obtained loans.

Court documents show that Stevens’ scheme involved issuing numerous fraudulent loans in the names of both witting and unwitting Primis customers.

“The defendant… used the proceeds of these fraudulent loans to make payments on previously opened fraudulent loans, to pay himself, or to pay others he associated with,” court documents state.

One such witting participant was an unnamed Primis customer who had a gambling problem and who was in jail when at least one of the loans was issued. Stevens used his access to the bank’s account systems to create all the fraudulent documentation.

“Stevens offered witting participants in his scheme a small payment in exchange for their assistance,” court records state.

One of the unwitting customers was a Primis client in whose name was issued $950,000 in loans, though Stevens knew he didn’t have the means to repay the notes. Stevens got around that by creating fraudulent documentation in the person’s name.

He also withdrew nearly $100,000 from a customer’s account without their knowledge and concealed the withdrawals by changing the billing address on their account so they would no longer receive their monthly account statements.

GMA Nordic federal courthouse1

Stevens’ case is playing out in federal court in Richmond. (BizSense file photos)

Stevens pleaded guilty via a criminal information process, which involves no arrest and a waiver of indictment. Court records do not state whether any of the witting participants in Stevens’ loan scam have or will be charged in any way.

Stevens made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Wednesday before Judge Mark Colombell. He remains free on a personal recognizance bond until his sentencing hearing on May 30.

Stevens faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, though the sentence will ultimately be determined by a judge and is likely be far lower.

Stevens is represented by attorney Laura Koenig from the Office of the Federal Public Defender. Koenig declined to comment.

Primis, which is headquartered in Henrico and keeps its parent company headquarters in McLean, first disclosed the fraud last summer in its quarterly earnings report.

The bank at the time did not reveal Stevens’ name, only that it discovered the $2.5 million scam and expected to recover the losses through insurance policies.

The bank emphasized at the time that it was a one-off issue and did not involve other employees.

Primis CEO Dennis Zember did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

primis sign

Primis Bank is headquartered in Henrico Count. (BizSense file photo)

A former longtime employee of locally based Primis Bank is facing federal prison time after pleading guilty this week to an embezzlement scheme the bank first discovered and disclosed last summer.

James Stevens, who worked at Primis and its predecessors Sonabank, EVB and Southside Bank from 2000 to 2023, struck a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday and admitted to stealing nearly $2.5 million from his employer.

Stevens, a 46-year-old resident of Weems, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and agreed to pay restitution to the bank of $2.47 million.

The former commercial lender and branch manager stole the money through a loan scheme that ran from 2008 through June 2023. The scam, according to court filings, came to an end when Stevens was hospitalized last year and unable to maintain payments on fraudulently obtained loans.

Court documents show that Stevens’ scheme involved issuing numerous fraudulent loans in the names of both witting and unwitting Primis customers.

“The defendant… used the proceeds of these fraudulent loans to make payments on previously opened fraudulent loans, to pay himself, or to pay others he associated with,” court documents state.

One such witting participant was an unnamed Primis customer who had a gambling problem and who was in jail when at least one of the loans was issued. Stevens used his access to the bank’s account systems to create all the fraudulent documentation.

“Stevens offered witting participants in his scheme a small payment in exchange for their assistance,” court records state.

One of the unwitting customers was a Primis client in whose name was issued $950,000 in loans, though Stevens knew he didn’t have the means to repay the notes. Stevens got around that by creating fraudulent documentation in the person’s name.

He also withdrew nearly $100,000 from a customer’s account without their knowledge and concealed the withdrawals by changing the billing address on their account so they would no longer receive their monthly account statements.

GMA Nordic federal courthouse1

Stevens’ case is playing out in federal court in Richmond. (BizSense file photos)

Stevens pleaded guilty via a criminal information process, which involves no arrest and a waiver of indictment. Court records do not state whether any of the witting participants in Stevens’ loan scam have or will be charged in any way.

Stevens made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Wednesday before Judge Mark Colombell. He remains free on a personal recognizance bond until his sentencing hearing on May 30.

Stevens faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, though the sentence will ultimately be determined by a judge and is likely be far lower.

Stevens is represented by attorney Laura Koenig from the Office of the Federal Public Defender. Koenig declined to comment.

Primis, which is headquartered in Henrico and keeps its parent company headquarters in McLean, first disclosed the fraud last summer in its quarterly earnings report.

The bank at the time did not reveal Stevens’ name, only that it discovered the $2.5 million scam and expected to recover the losses through insurance policies.

The bank emphasized at the time that it was a one-off issue and did not involve other employees.

Primis CEO Dennis Zember did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

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CM Reynolds
CM Reynolds
1 month ago

What’s the over/under that this guy will get a harsher judgement than Michael Hild?