Three former executives of a nonprofit group that provides counseling, job-placement and other services pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzling millions of dollars from the organization that received varying amounts of financial support over the years from the city and county of Los Angeles.
Sophia Esparza, 65, the former CEO of Chicana Service Action Center, faces the stiffest penalties under a plea deal with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty to five counts of misappropriating public funds, four counts of embezzlement, two counts of preparing false documentary evidence and one count of filing a false tax return.
Prosecutors said she operated the nonprofit with a bogus board of directors and used embezzled funds for items such as luxury apartments, sports cars, a yacht cruise and season tickets to the Dodgers and Clippers. She is facing six years in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 25.
Meanwhile, Silvia Gutierrez, 71, the former chief financial officer for the group, pleaded guilty to six counts of embezzlement, four counts of misappropriation of public funds and two counts of preparing false documentary evidence. Thomas Baiz, 62, a former vice president of the nonprofit, pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement, two counts of misappropriation of public funds and one count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds.
All three former executives were charged in 2015.
A fourth defendant, former employee Michael Lorenzo Tompkins, was charged earlier this year and pleaded no contest to one count of embezzlement, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Collectively, the four defendants will be ordered to pay $9 million to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services and Community Senior Services, and $1.4 million to the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department.
Esparza will also have to pay $103,000 to the state Franchise Tax Board, prosecutors said.
Gutierrez is expected to receive a four-year suspended sentence and spend a year on house arrest and five years on probation when she is sentenced Oct. 25. Baiz is facing a three-year suspended sentence, one year in jail and five years probation, along with 500 hours of community service.
Tompkins is facing three years in prison. Baiz and Tompkins are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 26.
According to prosecutors, Gutierrez used embezzled funds to for personal bonuses, life insurance and personal expenses, while Baiz used the money for loans, vehicles and meals.
–City News Service