Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sentence continued in ex-pastor embezzlement case

An ex-pastor who pleaded no contest to stealing money from a Clearlake church had his sentence hearing continued Tuesday afternoon at the Lake County Courthouse.

Bruce Stark, 63, will have to wait for his sentence for roughly a month after Judge Andrew S. Blum granted the defense and the court time to study evidence that could affect Stark's sentence.

Stark faces up to three years in state prison, Deputy District Attorney Sharon Lerman-Hubert said.

Defense attorney Thomas Quinn, who said a proper punishment for Stark would be probation, asked for the continuance after saying that he had evidence that suggests Stock stole significantly less than the nearly $100,000 the prosecution alleges.

Quinn also challenged an alleged 1970s, out-of-state murder conviction cited in the probation office's sentence report and said that, based on the language in the report, the allegation did not apply to Stark's situation.

If found true and relevant, the conviction allegation could have an impact in Stark's sentence length.

Judge Blum said he understood Quinn's interpretation but that he did not have enough information at the moment to make a ruling. He then said that he found cause for a continuance and added he would further study Quinn's allegation.

Stark was arrested after allegations that that he stole tens of thousands of dollars in cash and property from the Hilltop Apostolic Church while he was a pastor from 2002 to 2007. His wife Shanell Stark, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge related to the embezzlement and was sentenced to serve probation time, reportedly held a secretarial position at the time of the alleged theft.

Church members first brought concerns of vehicle theft, misappropriation of church funds and theft of church property to the attention of law enforcement in 2008, Clearlake Police Department (CPD) Sgt. Nick Bennett previously stated.

CPD Det. Carl Stein conducted an investigation, which included reviewing numerous cash transactions and loans involving church property in which Bruce allegedly converted the funds for his personal use, according to Bennett.

Bruce's sentencing hearing was rescheduled to Feb. 18. He awaits his hearing out of custody and resides in Stockton.

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