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Lodi woman arraigned on embezzlement charges

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Sierra Garcia

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 11:31 am

A Lodi woman was arraigned on charges of embezzling from a local real estate firm in Lodi court on Friday.

Sierra Danielle Julia Garcia, 26, appeared with Sacramento attorney Don Heller for her first court appearance, after she turned herself in to the courts.

The Lodi Police Department had a $200,000 warrant for her arrest in mid-January, after Garcia's previous employers reported that she embezzled $157,800 from them.

Katzakian, Williams and Associates, a former real estate brokerage firm owned by Theresa Williams and Ted Katzakian, dissolved due to financial difficulties in 2011. The owners said they later learned that Garcia had falsified their books and written checks to herself, along with other crimes, according to Detective Mike Manetti with the Lodi Police Department.

Garcia did not enter a plea on Friday, and was released on her own recognizance.

In lieu of a bail bond, Garcia's mother deposited $10,000 into Heller's trust account, which was transferred to the Katzakian family as the first part of returning the money Garcia is accused of embezzling.

"This is a case we will work out in the near future," said Heller. "I'd rather have something go to the victim than the bondsman."

Garcia will next appear in court for a pretrial conference on Feb. 27 at 9:30 a.m.

Tim Katzakian, son of former co-owner Ted Katzakian, attended the arraignment but declined to comment on the case. The company is represented by attorney Mark Rishwain, who was not present at Friday's proceedings.

Garcia was hired in 2007 to do bookkeeping for Katzakian, WIlliams and Associates. From February 2009 to September 2011, police say she is suspected of falsifying account entries, taking $157,800 to pay credit cards, writing checks to herself and running up personal charges with statements mailed to the business.

Manetti said that since Garcia controlled the mail and the accounts, she was able to hide her actions from her employers until well after the company was dissolved in 2011 and taken on by PMZ Real Estate.

Garcia became a secretary for PMZ Real Estate and still handled Williams' accounts, including payroll, utilities, and insurance through at least August 2012. Williams noticed an account was overdrawn on Oct. 1, 2012, and contacted Lodi police.

Garcia faces charges of grand theft by embezzlement, identity theft and falsifying corporate books. The allegations carry enhancements such as aggravated white-collar crime and theft of more than $100,000.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor has handled many embezzlement cases in the past with similar elements.

The targeted business owner is often an older woman working with a young female bookkeeper with some kind of spending addiction, said Taylor.

"If your bookkeeper is going to the casinos a lot, or you see a lot of UPS packages coming into the office for her, start auditing," said Taylor.

He advised that companies purchase insurance against fraud or embezzlement, and that they examine all canceled checks at the end of the months to prevent problems.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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