The onetime comptroller for a St. Paul country club has been sent to prison for embezzling more than $1 million over eight years and spending the money on travel, home improvements, an array of vehicles and a large tract of land in northern Minnesota.

Julie A. Lee, 53, of Farmington, was sentenced Thursday in federal court in St. Paul to 3 ½ years in prison and ordered to make restitution for what she stole from the Town & Country Club. She pleaded guilty in April to wire fraud and filing a false tax return.

U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said Lee “took elaborate steps to hide her deception from her employer, her colleagues and the club’s members who entrusted her with the club’s finances.”

As comptroller, Lee had the authority to sign and issue checks on behalf of the private club, which was founded in 1888. She also had signing authority on its bank accounts, including a line of credit with Alliance Bank.

The thefts were detected when club officials discovered potentially significant financial inconsistencies related to the club’s bank loan and cash accounts, an attorney for the club said.

In arguing for a sentence of one year and one day, her defense attorney pointed out in a court filing that Lee was suffering from depression, was a tireless volunteer at her church but was also what “could be described as a shopaholic … who primarily bought for others [and] did not lavish herself with fine jewelry or extravagant ‘toys.’ ”

The filing said she’s agreed to sell the vehicles — worth a total of $90,000 — and the stake she and her husband own in undeveloped land in northern Minnesota, with the proceeds going toward restitution.

The government urged the court to sentence Lee to nearly four years in prison, pointing out that “she stole to purchase cars and to live a lifestyle she could not otherwise afford” and “carried out a similar scheme at the golf club where she previously worked.” Court filings offered no further details on that allegation.

Lee issued herself more than 50 checks totaling $163,357 directly from the club’s bank accounts and stole roughly $250,000 in cash from the club and put it in her personal bank account.

She used the money to make payments on her personal credit cards totaling nearly $765,000. She spent the money on travel, fixing up her family’s house, paying her mortgage and buying 81 mostly wooded acres within Two Inlets State Forest northwest of Park Rapids.

She tried to cover the shortfall in the accounts by taking advances on the club’s line of credit at Alliance Bank. As a result, the club couldn’t make its quarterly payroll tax payments to the IRS. She also filed false quarterly payroll tax returns with the IRS, understating the club’s tax liability.

At times, Lee also filed the club’s quarterly payroll tax returns late and made its quarterly payments late, costing the club more than $300,000 in interest and penalties to the IRS.