According to Tracy police and the county district attorney's office, Maria Huerta stole the money while employed as a receptionist at lawyer Mark Connolly's Tracy office. The grand theft was discovered when the credit card account from which Huerta drew checks was found to have a large outstanding balance, when it should have been largely unused, the DA's office said.
Huerta also schemed to draw money from the firm's general fund account. She was able to conceal the theft, investigators explained, because she controlled the law office's mail and could intercept, alter and destroy incriminating evidence. Once caught, Huerta cooperated fully, confessing "at length" to the Tracy Police Department, specifically detective Kipp Loving, investigators said.
Huerta explained she first started her embezzlement as a way to pay back money she took from her husband's savings account. But her spending soon turned profligate, as she used stolen money to pay for gifts and trips to Reno, Disneyland and Las Vegas.
When she was arrested, investigators said, the only tangible thing left from the spending spree was two laptop computers. "This is not unusual in embezzlement cases," said Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor, explaining that embezzlers often have little to show for their spending. "The behavior we see in embezzlement cases is very compulsive." Huerta said that "I could not stop it myself" when she was caught, and she worked with police to tally how much money she took.
An exact figure was not released, and Connolly was not immediately available for comment. The Huerta case is only one of several being worked on by Tracy police, the DA's office said.
According to police statistics, embezzlement cases within Tracy's city limits dropped between 2009 and 2010. Still, police say that businesses should consider buying insurance as a hedge against employee fraud As well as monitoring who handles business communication.
Huerta was able to run her operation because she handled the law firm's mail.