Sunday, 14 April 2024

Woman sentenced for embezzling money from fire district

NORTHSHORE – A Northshore woman convicted of embezzling funds from the Northshore Fire Protection District has been sentenced to jail time and must make full restitution.


Fifty-nine-year-old Laurel Ann Bell – also known as Lori Ann Bell – of Nice will spend 240 days in jail, must serve five years of formal probation and 100 hours of community service, and be required to pay nearly $4,900 in restitution to the fire district, where she was an employee.


“We're glad that justice was done and now she's going to have to pay for it,” said Northshore Fire Protection District Chief Jim Robbins.


Judge Arthur Mann passed sentence on Bell on Jan. 19 for one charge of embezzlement by a public officer. That same day that she pleaded no contest to the charge.


She also had faced 19 other charges that included embezzlement, grand theft and forging or filing false documents, for which she was not tried or sentenced.


Prosecutor Rachel Abelson and Bell's defense attorney, Komnith Moth, did not respond to requests for comment.


Bell had worked for the Nice Community Services District and, after the fire districts in Upper Lake, Nice, Lucerne and Clearlake Oaks consolidated into the Northshore Fire Protection District, she was brought over to work as an office assistant at the Lucerne fire station, said Robbins.


Bell, whose profession was listed as accountant, previously had worked for the Lake County Auditor's Office for 14 years, according to court documents.


The prosecution alleged that she took funds from Northshore Fire between Feb. 22 and June 7, 2007.


Investigative documents said that the funds she took included $500 from 25 burn permits, as well as funds from the sale of an older ambulance.


District officials realized something was wrong when, on June 11, 2007, a $300 deposit wasn't made, according to investigative records.


When the district began investigating, they found that Bell had started making deposits, which she wasn't supposed to do, said Robbins.


After they discovered the questionable activity, Robbins and his staff went through their records to make sure they weren't wrong about their concerns. They discovered other irregularities, including $2,000 the district received from the sale of an older ambulance that also wasn't deposited, Robbins said.


“In 37 years I can't even tell you a dime that was missing out of this place, so that made me just sick,” said Robbins.


He added that Bell wasn't working at the Lucerne fire station for very long before they discovered what was going on.


Court records stated that she was terminated a short time after the missing funds were discovered.


During an interview with a District Attorney's Office investigator, Bell said she liked to gamble at Robinson Rancheria. By that time, she was unemployed; her husband also was on disability.


The District Attorney's Office filed the case against Bell on Nov. 21, 2007, and she was arrested the next day, according to court records. Her preliminary hearing was held in February 2009.


Mann ordered Bell to surrender herself at the Lake County Jail at 9 a.m. Feb. 10, when she is due to start serving her jail sentence.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .


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