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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Performing Arts Center Official Accused of Stealing

October 26, 2000

COSTA MESA — The box office manager of the Orange County Performing Arts Center has been fired and charged with grand theft involving $42,200 in phony ticket returns.

Tuan "Chris" Tong had worked at the center for about eight years and was box office manager for about three years before his firing on Oct. 6, according to Costa Mesa police reports. The 31-year-old Santa Ana man turned himself in to police on Monday and was released on his own recognizance.

Police said that center financial officers provided evidence that from late July to late September Tong had created 75 false transactions in which fictitious customers "returned" tickets. He then applied the refunds to his own credit cards, police said. Tong escaped detection because he was the "supervisor who checks and approves returns . . . [and] would be the person to raise the red flag if several suspicious returns were being made," according to the police report.

The red flag was raised instead by Bank of America, which alerted the center's controller, Brian Finck, on Sept. 26 that 32 cash credits totaling $19,489 had shown up on Tong's Visa card between July 22 and Sept. 24. Finck subsequently found similar credits to four other Tong credit cards during about the same time, according to the police report; he checked back two years but found no other suspicious transactions.

The center has since instituted "additional safeguards" in its box office procedures, spokesman Todd Bentjen said. "We are doing a full investigation of the box office operation, but we're confident that was an isolated incident."

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