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O.C. Arts Center Embezzler Sentenced

March 28, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

An employee the Orange County Performing Arts Center entrusted with its bank deposits was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for embezzling $1.85 million in cash in a scheme that went on for five years until she was caught last September.

In a letter to Orange County Superior Court Judge Craig E. Robison, Ana Limbaring said she stole the money to feed a gambling addiction. Her attorney said she squandered virtually all of it at the Pechanga Casino in Temecula.

Limbaring, 53, who had faced a maximum sentence of nearly 20 years before agreeing to a plea bargain, was sentenced on 31 criminal counts stemming from the thefts themselves, the doctoring of records to disguise them and evasion of $120,000 in state taxes.

Although the judge ordered the Costa Mesa resident to pay back the stolen money, Deputy Dist. Atty. William Overtoom said the nonprofit performing arts center, by far the county's biggest arts organization with a budget of about $40 million a year, would have "a very troublesome" time trying to recover any of it. The center was insured for $1 million of the loss, minus a $10,000 deductible, according to a financial statement it issued recently in connection with the bond issue that is helping to pay for a new, $200-million symphony hall that is due to open Sept. 15.

The center, which had been hit with a $42,000 embezzlement by its box office manager in 2000, had forensic accountants analyze its money-handling procedures after the arrest of Limbaring, an accounts receivable clerk hired in 1995. As a result, center spokeswoman Jennifer Mahal said, OCPAC has switched the auditing company that annually checks and certifies its books and has hired an additional worker in its finance department so that the same person who makes bank deposits no longer also reconciles bank statements -- a dual responsibility that Overtoom said allowed Limbaring to disguise her thefts.

"It started off small and got larger as time went on," Overtoom said.

Auditors finally uncovered the scheme by checking original cash register receipts against bank statements and finding the discrepancies, Overtoom said.

Limbaring, who came to the United States from the Philippines in 1987, expects to be deported after serving her time, forfeiting her dream of retiring in America with her husband and two grown children, her lawyer, Lawrence Forbes, told the judge in a document he filed asking for a sentence of eight years rather than 10.

Limbaring, who has been jailed on $2-million bond since her arrest, wrote to the judge last month.

"I have yet to be able to get over the embarrassment I feel having to face not just the Orange County Performing Arts Center, for I know they'll never forgive me, but ... feeling ashamed ... in front of my family and friends and also ... the Filipino community here and abroad. It's beyond belief, embarrassing, and I am truly sorry."

Limbaring said she told herself that "somehow, some day, I would be able to pay it back by winning big.... It was almost a relief when I got caught."

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