A 62-year-old Huntington Beach grandmother hoped to minimize her prison stint despite using her managerial accounting job at a Long Beach trucking and warehouse company to steal nearly $3.5 million.
Inside U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney's Santa Ana courtroom today, Patricia A. Francisco appeared neatly dressed and dignified, except when she quietly wept upon learning her alleged luxury shopping addiction excuse would not rescue her from lengthy incarceration.
“Shopping addiction is real,” an impassioned Diane Bass, Francisco's defense lawyer, argued about what she labeled “significant” mitigation for punishment reduction.
But a clearly unimpressed Assistant United States Attorney Brett A. Sagel noted that the thief's 16-year scheme diverted company funds to selfishly enhance her lifestyle, including:
–buying a house less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean;
–spending $50,000 on remodeling;
–purchasing a Huntington Beach condo near Beach Boulevard;
–buying a new, $40,000 Cadillac Escalade;
–collecting more than $300,000 in jewelry;
–spending $30,000 on two plastic surgeries;
–buying expensive shoes, clothes and handbags;
–taking trips to Hawaii, Oklahoma, and, for gambling, Las Vegas' The Mirage, Excalibur and Monte Carlo.
“This was not impulse buying,” Sagel said. “This was planning and anything short of the guideline [sentencing] recommendation [of 63 months in prison] sends the wrong signal.”
But Bass continued her attack on the government's stance, urging the judge to consider that Francisco grew up with an overly-demanding, fireman father and her “most striking” feature: “how cooperative she has been” with investigating FBI Special Agents Paul Bonin and Brian Reilly.
The privately-retained defense lawyer–who asked Carney to be merciful in his punishment decision–also said her client's life already looks dismal because she will soon surrender a $619,000 retirement account to her victims as partial reimbursement.
“She will have nothing,” Bass said. “She will be living in her daughter's basement in Oakland . . . It's not an enviable position to be in.”
Sagel called Bass' arguments “disingenuous” and re-characterized the degree of cooperation.
“The pleaded guilty after [the defendant] was caught,” he said, additionally pointing out that Francisco tried to destroy evidence when she realized her embezzlement scam had been detected in 2014.
“She deleted all of her personal files [from a company computer],” Bass fired back. “She didn't destroy it; she deleted it.”
Nonetheless, the deleted files were recovered and included a spread-sheet that brazenly outlined the defendant's plan for additional embezzlement that would supplement her retirement.
Robert A. Curry, president of the victimized California Cartage Company, told Carney that his business (created by his father 70 years ago) treats its employees like “family” and he was shocked that a 29-year employee would betray the business so callously.
“I think it's really important that you send a message that this is not something that we tolerate,” Curry told the judge.
Richard Smith, company CFO and Francisco's supervisor, described how a staff accountant discovered irregularities and when confronted the thief first claimed innocent mistakes before going “silent.”
“She used her position of trust to steal,” Smith said. “She violated every rule of decency. She has no regard for others.”
Key in Francisco's scam was her permitted access to Smith's signature stamp when he was out of the office. She used the device to fake expense reimbursements as well as outgoing bill payments that were funneled into her own account at Schools First Credit Union. She also signed over checks from company vendors to herself, according to the FBI.
Bass wasn't done with her defense, however. She told Carney that her client has four times attempted suicide after being caught by:
–borrowing a gun from a friend, driving to Disneyland's parking lot and planning to shoot herself during the evening fireworks show;
–drowning in a friend's swimming pool;
–drowning in the Pacific Ocean;
–renting a “seedy” motel room to overdose on “sleeping pills.”
“If that's not remorse, I don't know what is,” Bass said, adding that her client's suicide attempts ended with thoughts of spending time with her grandchildren.
The defendant, who has been free from custody, read from a single page note that expressed regret to the judge, five relatives and a friend in the courtroom audience.
“There are not enough words to express remorse for the amount of damage I've caused,” she said. “My legacy is shame and betrayal . . . I know the gravity of my crime. I will spent the rest of my days on this Earth making rights from my wrongs.”
Carney, who was visibly touched by the emotion expressed on both sides, declared it was “with a heavy heart” that the punishment will be 63 months in prison plus restitution and supervised probation for three years.
“I wish I had a magic wand to make things go away, but that's not reality,” he told the victims and the defendant.
The judge is allowing Francisco until noon on April 20 to self-surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.