Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Woman allegedly embezzled $438,000 from Catholic school fundraiser

A 40-year-old mother was arrested Tuesday for allegedly embezzling more than $400,000 from a Catholic school’s fundraising program, Orange County prosecutors said.

Adela Maria Tapia allegedly used some of the money at the department store Nordstrom, racked up $60,000 in credit card charges and paid for her children's private school tuition.

Tapia, who lives in Tustin, faces two felony counts of grand theft and 13 felony counts of money laundering, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. If convicted on all charges, she could be sentenced to 14 years and 4 months in prison.

Between September 2006 and September 2011, Tapia ran the scrip card fundraising program at Holy Family Cathedral School in Orange.

The program raises about $200,000 annually for the school by purchasing gift cards at a discount, selling them to school families or parishioners and keeping the difference.

When families paid for gift cards with cash, prosecutors say Tapia pocketed the money and deposited it into her bank account. In all, she allegedly embezzled $438,000, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Labreche.

“It’s all lifestyle enhancement using other people’s money,” Labreche said.

From a safe at the school, prosecutors say Tapia took scrip cards and sold them to family members.

The scheme was uncovered when Tapia was transferred to an office manager position in 2011, prosecutors said.

The school’s principal noticed about $120,000 worth of scrip cards were missing from the safe where the cards were stored, then reported it to the Orange Police Department.

The three-year investigation saw a forensic accountant review more than 83,000 pages of banking and financial records.

It’s unclear if Tapia had retained an attorney. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

Holy Family Cathedral School Principal Margaret Harlow and the cathedral's rector, Msgr. Doug Cook, said in a letter to parents on Tuesday that the school was reimbursed for the missing money by the Diocese of Orange's insurance company.

The school has since improved the financial oversight of the scrip fundraising program. No programs were cut or tuition increased on account of the alleged theft, Harlow and Cook wrote.

"As a community of faith," they wrote, "we ask that you pray to God for all parties involved, and that a fair and just outcome is the ultimate result."

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