A judge on Thursday ordered retired AC Transit CFO Lewis Clinton to trial on charges that he stole around $587,000 from charitable organizations he helmed on behalf of one of Oakland's most popular churches.
Clinton, 58, of Vallejo, was the unpaid president of three different nonprofit foundations at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a 5,000 member parish in East Oakland, when he purportedly embezzled from foundation accounts used to fund church programs providing housing assistance, re-entry services, child care and job training.
Investigators say the thefts began in 2007 and continued through 2013.
At the time of his arrest in April 2014, he had been AC Transit's chief financial officer for six years, collecting a $225,000 annual salary. He was on paid administrative leave from spring 2014 until his retirement in November 2014, according to the transit agency that serves Alameda and Contra Contra counties. He is not suspected of any financial misdoing at AC Transit, which conducts thrice-yearly audits.
Alameda County Judge Jo-Lynne Lee said Thursday at the end of a preliminary hearing that there is "sufficient evidence" to indicate that Clinton may be guilty of seven felony charges, including four counts of grand theft and one count each of money laundering, perjury and tax evasion. Lee dismissed a second count of tax evasion, citing insufficient evidence.
Clinton was a well-respected member of the finance world and the spiritual community before board members became suspicious that there might be financial impropriety when it was unable to make payroll and excessive ATM withdrawals and debit purchases were discovered, according to preliminary hearing testimony. He is accused of embezzling $527,000 in checks and cashiers checks from one foundation's credit union account, and another $60,000 to $70,000 in ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases from a Wells Fargo account. Judge Lee estimated that of the money taken from the Wells Fargo account, maybe 20 percent was used on legitimate expenses for the foundations.
Clinton used the stolen funds on a country club membership, private school tuition, luxury cars and vacations, according to testimony.
In a taped confrontation about the missing funds in March 2014, Clinton told Alameda County District Attorney's inspectors that managing the three nonprofits was a full-time job, so he started paying himself a salary. He also said that he had the authority to do what he could to keep the foundations alive while they were battling issues with the IRS. Church leaders denied that claim.
"I was in control, I was given the authority," Clinton says on the audio recording. "I wouldn't called it embezzlement. No, I wouldn't call it embezzlement at all."
Clinton remains free on $100,000 bail while he awaits a trial date. His public defender declined to comment on the case Thursday.