On the day of his preliminary hearing to face charges he embezzled money from a 20-year-old Tracy based company, George Coelho accepted a plea bargain offer from the district attorney’s office.
He agreed to pay $50,000 of restitution within 90 days, at which time a restitution hearing will be held to see if he will be ordered to pay more — possibly in excess of $100,000.
If Coelho fails to make the first installment, he could be sentenced to two years in state prison, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor said.
Judge Ron Northup warned Coelho that he could face up to four years in prison if he violates his probation, followed by four years of parole after his prison sentence. He also told him the original deal would be taken off the table if he violates any laws during this time period.
When Northup asked for a plea on the charge of grand theft of personal property between December 2002 and March 2009, Coelho said he was guilty. On the enhancement of taking personal property exceeding the value of $65,000, he again pleaded guilty.
Prepared for a preliminary hearing, Taylor told the court that the owners of Pinnacle Roofing, Jerry and Greta Yerian, were present in the court. He said Jerry Yerian was going to testify that Coelho was his business manager, and that after Coelho was terminated an audit was conducted. The forensics auditor, also present, was going to testify that money from the business checking account was debited to pay credit cards for the defendant.
“The total amount loss was in excess, well in excess, of $100,000,” Taylor said.
The judge ordered Coelho to give Jerry Yerian a cashier’s check for $50,000 on Oct. 19, 2011. His next court hearing will be for sentencing on Nov. 1, 2011, at 8:30 a.m. in Manteca Superior Court, at which time the judge will review payment information and have the restitution hearing.
Following today’s plea, Greta Yerian said she was glad justice caught up to Coelho.
“We’ve been fighting this for two-and-a-half years,” she said.
When asked if they were satisfied with the court’s decision, Jerry Yerian said, “I’m not satisfied. I prefer the full sentencing, and as much restitution as possible. I want my money back.”
Greta Yerian said Coelho was hired at Pinnacle in 2001 and was named their general manager in 2002. He remained as GM until his termination in 2009.
Although he was directed to use his personal credit card for company purchases, Greta Yerian said Coelho used the company funds to pay for personal purchases, including vacations, restaurant meals and lavish personal items. She said they didn’t discover the theft until he was terminated and she started looked into the company’s checking account.
Taylor warned that embezzlement has been a big problem in San Joaquin County, as well as the state and nation. He urges family businesses to get insurance to cover such losses. He said the loss to the Yerian’s represented their retirement and life savings.
According to a report by Marquet International, which operates an online blog on fraud and employee misconduct, last year was a banner year for employee theft in the United States.
Their analysis of 485 major embezzlement cases in the U.S. during 2010 showed a 17 percent increase over reported cases in 2009.
“It’s essential owners of the (business) account look at statements regularly,” Taylor said. “Companies need to have appropriate checks and balances … not let one person have sole use of a checking account.”
“Small business is the backbone of the economy,” he said. “We’re doing this work (prosecution) to save jobs.”