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Former Grant Thornton partner pleads guilty to stealing $4 million

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former partner at Grant Thornton pleaded guilty on Wednesday to stealing nearly $4 million in client payments to the global accounting firm.

Craig Haber, who prosecutors said diverted money to his own bank accounts between 2004 and 2012, pleaded guilty to a charge of mail fraud in federal court in New York.

"I knew my conduct was wrong," Haber said at a court hearing. "I apologize sincerely to the firm for my actions."

Haber, 59, had been a partner at Grant Thornton from 1993 to 2012 in the firm's New York offices.

As part of his plea, he has agreed to not appeal any order requiring up to $4.34 million in restitution. He also agreed to forfeit $3.97 million, as well as all rights to his downtown Manhattan apartment and $1.8 million in a brokerage account.

Haber was arrested in February in connection with the theft, in which Haber stole $3.97 million in payments intended for Grant Thornton, a court document said.

Grant Thornton is the sixth-largest accounting firm globally with $4.2 billion in revenues in 2012, according to International Accounting Bulletin.

The firm was not named in court documents, but a spokesman for Grant Thornton previously confirmed its role and said it cooperated with the investigation. Grant Thornton terminated Haber in July, charging documents said.

Tim Blair, a spokesman for the firm, said Wednesday the firm was "pleased that the authorities have resolved this matter swiftly."

At a hearing on Wednesday, Haber admitted to telling clients to mail checks directly to his office instead of through the normal processing channel. He then deposited the checks into a bank account he controlled, Haber said.

Charging documents said Haber then used the money for personal expenses, including his New York apartment's mortgage, according to charging documents.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel is set for December 13.

Haber faces a maximum 20 years in prison. Under a plea agreement detailed in court, prosecutors have stipulated to a sentencing guideline of 51 to 61 months in prison and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000.

The case is U.S. v. Haber, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 13-cr-434.

(Additional reporting by Dena Aubin; editing by Andrew Hay)

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