It was part of the city of Joplin's much-celebrated downtown renovation.
What had once been a ramshackle building was restored through the creative use of grants, and public and private financing. Instead of being a blight on the landscape, the building at 424 S. Main became an interior decorating business, Evergreen and Amber, run by two local women with drive and ambition.
The business, which opened in 2007, was dead in the water two years later, resulting in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for one of the owners, Peggy Newton.
It may not have been the dire economic climate that spelled doom for Evergreen and Amber. On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted Peggy Newton on 25 counts of fraud and forgery. The indictment was filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
The indictment alleges that Mrs. Newton forged the name of her business partner, Diane Pine, setting up numerous credit card accounts, wrote 393 checks for her personal use, wrote four checks to her husband, Newton Jewelers owner Brian Newton "for unauthorized reason", used company money to make one of her husband's car payments, and "altered or falsified" documents to make it appear that payments were less than they actually were, or were to someone else rather than the actual recipient.
On approximately 500 occasions, the indictment says, Mrs. Newton took money from Ms. Pine's personal credit accounts and Evergreen and Amber accounts "for personal use."
According to the indictment:
"It was part of the scheme that on approximately five occasions, Newton used D.P.’s name, date of birth, and Social Security Number to open new credit accounts without D.P.’s knowledge or consent. Newton then incurred charges on these accounts to conduct balance transfers to other accounts, and to cover shortfalls on other bank and credit accounts."
The allegations first came to light when Ms. Pine challenged Mrs. Newton's Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.late last year. Bankruptcy court documents indicate Mrs. Newton claimed she owed $320,358.09 and had only $3,778.85 in assets.
In her challenge to Mrs. Newton's bankruptcy, Ms. Pine claimed her former business partner had "engaged in a pattern of fraud and deceit." Ms. Pine described herself as primarily an absentee partner who spent most of her time working as a registered nurse in Dallas, Texas, though Joplin was her home.
Ms. Pine said Mrs. Newton used company money for various personal reasons, including shopping sprees, paying off her personal debt, paying off her husband's personal loan, tuition for her child to attend College Heights Christian School, and membership in the Millennium Tennis Club.
Ms. Pine filed credit card statements which she claimed show Mrs. Newton paid for vacations, clothing, groceries, and meals with company money or by forging Ms. Pine's signature. The claim also included meals with the statements indicating Mrs. Newton used the credit cards to cover meals at everywhere from Moe's Southwest Grill to McDonald's, Sonic, Burger King, and Fuddrucker's.
In the bankruptcy court documents, Ms. Pine said Mrs. Newton took $108,369.53 in cash from company bank accounts.
In the response that was filed to Ms. Pine's claims by bankruptcy attorney Norman Rouse, Mrs. Newton denied all of the allegations.
All of the Turner Report coverage of the Peggy Newton case can be found at this link.