A Westminster attorney and his former office manager were charged Friday with embezzling more than $100,000 from the accounts of 11 clients.
Lawyer Kenneth J. Golden, 53, and Ralph Long Jr., 58, pleaded innocent to one count each of grand theft by embezzlement at their arraignments before Judge B. Tam Nomoto in Central Orange County Municipal Court, authorities said.
Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Guy Ormes said the charges carry a special allegation which applies to embezzlement cases involving more than $100,000. If convicted, each could be sentenced to one year in prison for embezzlement and two additional years for the special allegation.
Hearing June 17
A preliminary hearing was set for June 17.
Authorities said the arraignments Friday culminated a 2 1/2-year investigation by the Westminster Police Department, the district attorney's major fraud unit and the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute (ICPI)--a group of investigators employed nationwide by a pool of insurance companies to uncover and aid in the prosecution of insurance fraud.
Westminster Police Detective Dave Stronach said the investigation of Golden and Long was launched after several clients of the law firm at 8070 Westminster Ave. complained that settlements made in their behalf by the firm were being withheld or delayed.
Stronach said the most recent alleged embezzlement occurred shortly before the investigation began. The 11 people listed in the criminal complaints were allegedly cheated out of all or part of their settlements during an 18-month period that began in May, 1981, he said.
All of the clients were represented by Golden in personal injury cases which were settled, Stronach said, adding that Long quit the firm shortly after the investigation began.
"What we've got is a person going to an attorney and saying, 'I've been involved in an accident,' then the attorney is dealing with an insurance company," Stronach said of the case. "The attorney and his office staff make a settlement with the insurance company."
As time passed, some of the clients phoned to ask about their settlement and were told by the firm's employees, 'Well, the funds haven't arrived yet," Stronach said.
"In some cases, people were paid back entirely; in some cases, they were paid partially and in some cases, people were not paid at all," Stronach said. "Quite a few of the people needed the money badly and because of it being delayed or not getting it, it created great hardship for them."
According to court documents, one of the victims is a 50-year-old woman who was critically injured in a car accident in March, 1981. The woman, who was not identified, was rendered a quadriplegic for some time and confined to a hospital bed for nearly a year after the accident. She is still handicapped and depends on a wheelchair.
Ormes said the car driver's insurance company issued a $50,000 settlement check about two months after the accident. Only when the woman left the hospital and asked the car driver, a neighbor, about the settlement did she learn that the check had been issued to the Golden firm, Stronach said.
Golden, Long or their attorneys could not be reached for comment Friday.