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FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | NORTH / BREA

Ex-Clerk Embezzled $1.3 Million

July 24, 1998|GREG HERNANDEZ

In one of the county's largest fraud cases, a woman pleaded guilty this week to embezzling $1.3 million from the health food wholesale company where she was an accounts payable clerk for 21 years, the district attorney's office said Thursday.

Cheri C. Bay, 58, admitted to systematically diverting money from the accounts of Nature's Best in Brea. Bay, a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, also failed to report the embezzled money as income on her tax returns, officials said.

"It's one of the largest cases our [major fraud] unit has handled," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jimmie Harris, who prosecuted the case.

Harris said Bay regularly issued checks to a company she owned that was based in her home. He said the crimes were finally detected when Nature's Best switched to a computerized paycheck signing system.

Bay pleaded guilty to six felony counts of grand theft and four felony counts of filing false income tax returns. The plea came before a scheduled preliminary hearing in Municipal Court in Fullerton.

Bay faces up to five years in state prison and will be ordered to pay full restitution to her former employer. By pleading guilty, she avoided a possible prison term of 16 years. She also could be fined more than $2 million when she is sentenced Sept. 18.

Prosecutors took the rare step of freezing Bay's assets by getting a preliminary injunction against her under the Aggravated White Collar Crime Enhancement section of the California Penal Code.

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