A former employee of a St. George doormat manufacturer pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzling more than $850,000 from the company.

Cynthia Soard, 52, of Santee, pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud. She was originally charged with five federal counts.

The charges were filed July 22 under an information, which is similar to an indictment in that it lays out the facts and elements of a criminal offense.

Beginning as early as 2003, the court filings said, Soard defrauded USCOA out of hundreds of thousands by transferring funds to a related company named Interaco.

Soard increased the account receivables of USCOA's large customers, such as Wal-Mart, to cover her tracks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart said during Thursday's hearing. Soard then forged checks from Interaco by writing them out to herself and a business owned by her husband.

Authorities don't know whether Soard's husband was aware of the scheme, DeHart said. He died of cancer in 2011.

Soard disguised the embezzlement by changing the payee names on checks that were returned to Interaco.

At one point, Soard refinanced her home in order to repay $100,000 to USCOA, prosecutors alleged. The company didn't notice the payment, DeHart said, and Soard quickly resumed committing fraud.

Soard waived indictment by grand jury and agreed to plea to the one wire fraud count.

Soard worked for USCOA for 30 years prior to her termination in 2013. She forged a check worth $9,082.50 in April of that year, court records show.

Soard admitted to her actions to two company managers after the fraud was discovered, according to DeHart.

"Soard has cooperated with authorities, and we look forward to resolving this case soon," DeHart said.

Soard has since repaid about $482,000 to USCOA, her attorney, David Aylor, said.

"She's looking forward to putting this behind her," Aylor said following Thursday's hearing. "Her plea agreement was fair and in her best interest."

A judge set bail at $25,000 prior to Soard's plea hearing.

She faces up to 20 years in prison, restitution, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release. She will be sentenced at a later date.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.