Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elizabeth Larson Reporting: Robinson Rancheria's Tracey Avila Faces Three Years If Convicted

UPDATE:   SacBee finally gets the news.... a little late

Elizabeth Larson of Lake County News gets deeper into the Tracey Avila embezzlement case.  Interesting to note that investigators interviewed Avila at a meeting at the Pechanga Resort & Casino

An investigation initiated more than two years ago and carried out by federal officials has led to the arrest of Robinson Rancheria's tribal chair on a charge of felony grand theft for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars from another Lake County tribe.
Tracey Isabelle Avila, 50, of Nice was arrested on a felony bench warrant on Friday, Sept. 9, according to jail records. She posted bail, set at $20,000, and was released later that same day.

Avila is alleged to have taken more $60,000 from Elem Indian Colony of Clearlake Oaks between February 2006 and September 2008, during which time she worked as the tribe's fiscal officer and also was Robinson's tribal chair, according to Deputy District Attorney Rachel Abelson, who is prosecuting the case.
Abelson said Avila is due to appear in for arraignment in Lake County Superior Court's Clearlake division before Judge Stephen Hedstrom on Oct. 31.
According to the case file, the Berkeley firm Karshmer & Associates, Elem Colony's general legal counsel, sent a letter dated June 1, 2009, to Laura Yoshii, acting regional director for the US Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest Region 9, requesting an investigation into the alleged embezzlement.
The letter, written by attorney Sarah Dutschke, said that after Avila's termination as bookkeeper the tribe uncovered evidence which they alleged showed that during her 30 months of employment Avila had taken funds from the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act grant as well as from grants the tribe had received from the US EPA and US House and Urban Development.

Elem's own investigation led to the conclusion that Avila had allegedly taken the funds through three principal methods – increasing her hourly pay rate without authorization, giving herself unapproved pay advances and signing several of her family members up for health care coverage but not having the required premiums deducted from her paycheck, Dutschke's letter stated.

On June 15, 2009, the US EPA's Grants Management Office opened the investigation, which later was taken over by special agents with the EPA Office of the Inspector General and HUD's Office of the Inspector General, the documents state.
A review of Avila's pay records conducted as part of the investigation revealed that Avila is alleged to have given herself just over $44,000 in unauthorized pay raises, as well as more than $16,000 in additional paychecks and annual leave.

During the same time a check for more than $14,000 was stolen from the tribe and cashed by a Hispanic male suspect in the Chico area, where Avila is reported to have family, according to case file.

According to the investigation, Elem alleged that Avila hired auditors from Robinson Rancheria to conduct an audit of Elem's financial records. The audit reportedly came back clean.  OP:  Uh, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck..

Avila's work records showed she was frequently late or ill, and rarely worked entire weeks, yet still drew full wages, the report said.  OP:  And certainly worth giving a raise to?

The special agents interviewed Avila on June 9, 2010, at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula.   OP  BIRDS OF A FEATHER?

During the interview Avila said that Elem's system for receiving the grant funds was a “mess,” and that others were writing checks on tribal accounts without her knowledge. She said that she eventually quit her job after becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation.
Avila also told the agents that she paid back the pay advances, insisted that the tribal council had authorized her pay raises and accused another tribal leader of taking the missing funds.
Elem tribal members the agents interviewed stated that Avila had threatened to implicate others if she got in trouble, and that over time her work hours dropped from eight hours a day to four. She also allegedly got a better car and started wearing more expensive clothes.

Abelson said Avila could face a maximum of three years in state prison if convicted. Due to the state's realignment, Avila's time could be served in the county jail, which is where prisoners convicted of certain felonies will be housed.

PLEASE read the Elizabeth's full story at Lake County News
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