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A longtime bookkeeper admitted Wednesday that she stole nearly $1 million from a family business in Severna Park that employed her for 17 years, entering her guilty plea as one of her elderly victims looked on from a wheelchair.

Lisa Fore, 48, of Hampstead, who worked for The Cirelli Company and related businesses, used company checks to pay her own personal credit card bills and her property tax bills, and forged signatures and created fake bank statements as part of her scheme, according to federal prosecutors and an FBI affidavit.

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She pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. The latter charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of two years, which must be served after she finishes any sentence she receives for the mail fraud, U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander said in court.

According to court records, the scheme began in 2001 and ended in 2018, only after owner Charles Cirelli’s son and daughter discovered discrepancies on a business American Express card and confronted Fore. She admitted to her crimes immediately, saying, “I did it. I’m guilty,” according to a criminal complaint and federal search warrant filed by FBI Agent Autumn Brown, who investigated the case.

On Wednesday prosecutors’ and Fore’s lawyer haggled over details of the plea, primarily on the amount of money taken. It is a crucial point because the total could affect her eventual sentence. She faces a minimum two years in prison on the identity theft, and 20 years for the mail fraud, although the actual sentence likely will be far lower.

Prosecutors estimated the theft at about $990,000, while Fore’s lawyer agreed it was at least $550,000 and would need a full accounting.

In her job, Fore managed the payment of bills and invoices of the Cirelli entities.

Fore used company money for her own needs, including writing checks to pay taxes owed to the federal government, gas bills at her home and other things.

Fore’s attorney, James Crawford said she is very “remorseful” for what occurred.

“She is going to do anything she can to try to fix it,” Crawford said in an interview after the court hearing.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Fore told the judge she was on several medications to treat anxiety and depression, but said she understood the charges against her and was able to enter a plea and accept the consequences. She is free on bond and her sentencing date is scheduled for March.

Fore was the only non-family member working for the Cirelli entities, and her arrest stunned the family, according to court filings.

After being confronted in 2018 over the fraudulent spending, Fore sent a text message to one of the Cirelli family members, records show.

“Should I be prepared? From what he said are they going to file charges? So I can prepare my kids,” one text message said. "So I can prepare my kids. I am so sorry I am sure u hate me as well thank u for being u.

The Cirelli family member responded, according to FBI agent Brown’s affidavit and search warrant.

“I don’t hate you. I’m just in shock. I hope all goes well with your procedure,” the message ended without elaborating.

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After Wednesday’s court hearing, representatives of the Cirelli entities and family members declined to comment.

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