Tuesday, 18 June 2024

REGIONAL: Woman sentenced to prison for embezzling from Realtor association

FORT BRAGG – A woman was sentenced to a prison term and restitution last week after she was convicted of embezzling from a Realtor association.


On April 30, following a highly-contested judgment and sentencing hearing, Judge Jonathan Lehan sentenced Laura Beth Clark, 36, a resident of Fort Bragg, to two years in prison, ordered she pay remaining restitution of $66,606, and remanded her immediately into custody for delivery to the California Department of Corrections.


The probation officer had recommended denial of probation, and the imposition of the two-year prison sentence, according to a report from the office of Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott.


On January 19, 2009, Clark entered a plea of no contest to the felony charge of embezzling from the Coastal Mendocino Association of Realtors.


The investigation revealed she had, as manager and bookkeeper of the association from 2002 through 2008, committed 61 acts of embezzlement amounting to $77,757. The investigation costs amounted to another $15,229.


The embezzlement came to light in July 2008, when Clark's estranged husband telephoned Ted Tanner, the president of the association, and claimed that his wife had embezzled money over the years, according to Lintott's office.


Tanner and Dee Dee Thomas, another member of the executive committee, arranged to meet with Clark and advise her of her husband's charges, at first believing he was just “blowing smoke.” To their surprise Clark admitted to embezzling $26,000, which she returned in a few days, and stated, when asked if that was all, “Of course.” In fact, she had embezzled $50,000 more than that.


The investigation revealed that Clark had paid herself money based on false invoices, and purchased items for CMAR using her personal credit cards and then reimbursing herself several times over.


She also allegedly made up a phony company with the name "Flex" in it, which was close in name to a real company CMAR used with the name "Flex" in it and make an entry into the books for services by the false company, with the payments going to her.


Numerous letters were submitted to the court on behalf of Clark, and on behalf of CMAR. At the sentencing hearing, Clark's attorney, Bart Kronfeld, argued that Clark, being a first time offender on a charge not involving violence, should be placed on probation, and be allowed to do any jail time by electronic home monitoring.


Kronfeld argued that the defendant's “early plea” plea showed remorse, and that prison would be devastating to her two daughters, age 12 and 9, one of whom has no visitation with her father.


Clark was tearful at the hearing, and told the court that she was remorseful. She said that the reason she did the embezzling was, “I was not standing up to my husband.”


Prosecutor Tim Stoen argued the probation officer's recommendation should be followed, citing the report of Clark's interview which stated: "She never mentioned the victims of this case or the detrimental effect this has had on them." Stoen also pointed out Clark's use of the passive voice during that interview: "accounts were set up" and "checks were written."


Three officers or former officers of CMAR gave victim impact statements Ron Eich, Ted Tanner and Dee Dee Thomas. The gist of their comments was that the 98 members of CMAR had been harmed emotionally and financially by Clark's embezzlement, that she had never apologized to any of them, that she had been highly manipulative in committing the embezzlements, and that she been deeply trusted, even loved, making the members feel particularly betrayed. They supported the recommendation of the district attorney and the probation department.


At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Lehan openly considered and weighed the statements that had been made, indicating a concern for the welfare of the children as well as a concern to protect the community against embezzlement.


Lehan ended up making the decision to follow the recommendation of the Probation Department, and remanded Clark into custody.


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