To many neighbors, friends and co-workers, Clyde E. Weinman was a tireless advocate for the less fortunate, a man who felt his mission in life was to help.
For nearly two decades, Weinman, 43, of Lake Forest, worked for nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping the indigent, most recently as executive director of Irvine Temporary Housing, an agency assisting the homeless.
"He just never stopped; he was so devoted to helping others," said attorney Cathy Jensen, a friend and former board member at ITH. "He always went beyond the call of duty."
Co-workers and friends recall Weinman visiting local parks to find homeless families in need of help, and of the time Weinman arranged a free ride home for an indigent client who was seriously injured in an accident out of town.
But their picture of Weinman is difficult to reconcile with the portrait that law enforcement authorities are now painting: that of a man with a history of financial trouble who was stealing from the people he was seemingly dedicated to helping.
Weinman appeared in Municipal Court in Newport Beach on Thursday to face 15 felony charges of grand theft and forgery. He is charged with siphoning at least $81,000 from ITH to cover personal living expenses, such as cable television and grocery bills, outstanding loans and a lease on a Mercedes-Benz.
Attorneys for Weinman say he is not guilty and attribute his financial problems to his dismissal in June from ITH after officials discovered thousands of dollars missing.
Weinman's arraignment was postponed to Dec. 3. Judge Susanne S. Shaw reduced his bail from $100,000 to $25,000, saying that he did not pose a serious flight risk. Weinman was expected to post bail.
Attorney Eric Kaminsky, who represented Weinman at the hearing, said he does not believe Weinman is guilty.
"You've heard about money going out, but you haven't heard yet about all his money going in," said Kaminsky, who said Weinman told him he used his own money to help keep ITH afloat and then took the same money back to pay his own bills. "The whole story hasn't been told yet."
Law enforcement officials say Weinman forged names on nearly 600 checks totaling almost $450,000 while he worked at ITH in 1989 and 1992. Some checks were used for proper ITH expenses.
But officials suspect Weinman may have used some of the money to fund an unlicensed home improvement business he ran on the side, officials said.
"It's still under investigation, but it would explain the checks to Home Club and Home Depot," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Daniel McNerney, who is prosecuting Weinman.
In addition, the U.S. attorney's office is investigating whether Weinman played a role in a suspected diversion of funds at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, a poverty law center where he was an administrator in the mid-1980s.
Weinman filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, declaring nearly $300,000 in debts, and was the subject of several civil suits and liens against his property.
But many of Weinman's friends say they cannot believe the charges against him and predict he will be vindicated.
"If you knew (Weinman), you wouldn't be able to understand the charges," said Joseph Greenblatt, an Orange County accountant and friend who loaned Weinman nearly $1,500 when Weinman said he needed the money to cover a short-term cash crunch at ITH.
Prosecutors say they believe Weinman was soliciting the money from friends to cover up financial emergencies at ITH caused by his dipping into agency coffers and then using ITH checks to pay friends back.
"A few of the checks bounced, but ultimately everything was payed back," said Greenblatt, who has known Weinman for 16 years. "He was very dedicated to his job."
Jensen said she is a friend and supporter of Weinman. She resigned from the board at ITH earlier this year because, she said, she "did not like their management style." Sources say she quit because she was outraged over the probe of Weinman.
Margie Wakeham, chairwoman of the ITH board of directors, said, "I guess he was giving freely with one hand and taking with the other."
The agency receives federal and local funds, Wakeham said, and some of those have been suspended because of the controversy.
She said Weinman had arranged to be in control of all incoming bills and had dismissed an auditing agency to keep the books himself.
Employee Charles Sterling raised questions about Weinman's bookkeeping as early as 1990, but Weinman persuaded the board members that finances were being handled properly, Wakeham said. Sterling later quit over the matter, according to police documents.
"Looking back now, all the clues were there," she said. "But hindsight is 20-20."