From the Ventura County Star:
An Oxnard woman accused of stealing more than $400,000 from a nonprofit has been sentenced to four years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to forgery and other charges.
Prosecutors said Lorena Varela, 47, was initially charged with 18 counts of forgery, grand theft and computer fraud. In June, she pleaded guilty to six felony forgery counts and two special allegations related to money she embezzled from Arc of Ventura County, said Marc Leventhal, senior deputy district attorney.
Varela was a bookkeeper for the Ventura-based nonprofit, which serves residents with developmental disabilities, and was accused of stealing $427,000 from it.
Leventhal said Varela worked for the organization for 10 years and that the thefts occurred from April 2004 to September 2012. He said she falsified electronic ledgers to show money had been paid to vendors. Instead, Varela used a signature stamp of an authorized Arc signatory and signed checks to herself, Leventhal said.
“There was proof that during the 8½ years she was working there, there were 500 separate acts of theft,” Leventhal said. “(Varela) represented herself as someone who was loyal and gained their trust. She covered up her scheme and relied on her hope that no one would look at these canceled checks she made out to herself.”
Leventhal said Varela was caught after another employee noticed a discrepancy between checks and the ledger, which triggered an audit.
Varela was arrested June 11 and was free on $30,000 bail until Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kevin McGee sentenced her Wednesday. Although she was sentenced to four years and eight months, she could serve half the time and then be eligible for parole because her charges were nonviolent offenses, Leventhal said.
Varela also was ordered to pay restitution to Arc.
Ron Bamieh, who represented Varela, said she immediately admitted to the theft when confronted. Bamieh said she was “going through a life crisis” and trying to save her house and marriage.
“She immediately broke down … cried and admitted to what she did,” Bamieh said. “There is no excuse morally and ethically about what she did, but this also shows how lax they (Arc) were in their bookkeeping. This is a sad case all around.”
Calls to Arc administrators were not returned, but Patricia Schulz, Arc’s CEO, said in an email, “We’re glad to close the chapter on this and move forward to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the agency’s mission.”