Orange County Corporate Embezzler Sought Reduced Prison Punishment

An Orange County payroll administrator secretly raided her Irvine employer's bank accounts for seven years, created fake entries to mask her $1.2 million theft taken in $5,000 or $6,000 lumps, and used the windfall to pay for luxurious vacations, including $2,100-per-night suites for extended holiday stays at places like the Hotel Coronado in San Diego.

This week inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, Trisha Michelle Chopin hoped to receive a punishment of no more than 10 months, which would have placed her back on the street in days given she has been in pre-sentencing lockup for nine months.

Chopin's defense lawyer argued that her 50-year-old client should receive credit for cooperating and confessing after management at Steadfast Companies accidentally discovered her embezzlement scheme.

The defendant's children and father also told federal judge Cormac J. Carney that she regrets her actions and is “not a bad person.”

But Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer L. Waier argued that Chopin, who legitimately earned $69,000 annually, deserved a prison term of no less than 51 months, noting that these latest heists followed stealing from separate, prior employers in 2006 and 2008.

According to an FBI report obtained by the Weekly, Steadfast officials became suspicious after receiving an urgent ADP payroll notice in January 2015, but Chopin explained the unauthorized transfer of funds as an innocent error she would correct. The following month a second similar notice prompted Ana Marie Del Rio, the company's chief operating officer, to launch a probe that included retrieving the payroll administrator's employment file. Chopin clandestinely stole those records from Del Rio's desk drawer and, a computer forensic investigation later showed, used the Internet to make an inquiry: “Why would my employer pull my employee file?”

Court records also show that after Steadfast fired Chopin she grabbed job at Green, Hasson and Jenks as a temporary payroll employee and was caught stealing an additional $43,000.

Based on the defendant's criminal inclinations, Carney ultimately agreed with the federal prosecutor's sentencing recommendation for the wire fraud convictions.

Chopin, who attended Cal State Fullerton, remains locked up in local jail facilities and will be transported to prison in coming days. When she emerges back into society, she'll be on supervised probation for three years. She'll also be responsible to pay $1.2 million in restitution, according to the judge's orders.

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