Chris Rock once said he did not agree with O.J. Simpson killing his wife, "but I understand." Having struggled to put 2 1/2 kids through Mater Dei High School, I don't agree with the former Holy Family Cathedral School office manager having, as authorities allege, embezzled more than $400,000 to pay for her kids' tuition at Holy Family and Mater Dei–but I understand.
According to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), Adela Maria Tapia was originally hired to coordinate Holy Family's fundraising sale of "scrip cards," which are essentially cash cards that nonprofits buy at a discount, sell at face value and then pocket the profits. The school makes about $200,000 a year from the scrip sales.
Prosecutors allege the Tustin 40-year-old stole about $438,000 from September 2006 through September 2011 by ordering scrip cards or taking them from the school's safe and selling them to buyers who included family members, one of whom was an ordained deacon at a different Diocese of Orange parish. When purchasers paid with cash, Tapia kept the money, claims the OCDA, which alleges that besides tuition she paid for luxury clothing and department-store goods with the windfall.
The alleged scheme was uncovered when Tapia was promoted to office manager and her replacement asked the Holy Family principal for access to a school safe containing the scrip cards. The principal discovered $120,000 in scrip cards were missing and called Orange Police.
The case took several years to investigate because of its complexity, Senior Deputy District Attorney Marc Labreche, who has compiled 83,000 pages of evidence, told City News Service.
Tapia is charged with two felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement, 13 felony counts of money laundering with sentencing enhancement allegations for aggravated white collar crime over $100,000, and property loss of over $200,000. At her arraignment this morning in Santa Ana, Labreche will request that her bail be set at more than $438,000 and that she not be allowed to post bond until she proves the money came from a legal and legitimate source.
She could get up to 14 years and four months in prison if she is convicted, the OCDA says.
Her case prompted this statement from the Diocese of Orange:
In 2012 Holy Family Cathedral School in Orange discovered that an employee had violated the trust of the school and parish through their mismanagement of the school's scrip program. This employee was immediately released from their employment at the school after the irregularities in the scrips program were discovered and the matter was referred to law enforcement. After an exhaustive investigation the Orange County District Attorney has decided to pursue several criminal charges in this case.
The school has since "instituted more robust financial controls to ensure this issue is not repeated," according to the Diocese.