Former Jurupa Valley water company bookeeper convicted of embezzling $275,000 – San Bernardino Sun

The former bookeeper and office manager of a Jurupa Valley-based water company has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $275,000 by skimming cash from company deposits over a four-year period.

Under the terms of her Aug. 2 plea agreement, Jacqueline Dianne Ramirez, 66,  must sell or refinance her Perris home to pay restitution to the Santa Ana River Water Co. She also was ordered to pay a fine of either $25,000 or 10% of the proceeds of the sale or refinance, whichever is greater.

For 30 years, Ramirez handled the company’s finances. From January 2016 to February 2020 she stole more than $275,000 by altering bank deposit slips prepared by an office clerk to show less cash being deposited, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Vicki Rupe, the water company’s board president, reported the theft of funds to police on June 29, 2020, after an audit that covered the four-year period. The audit, according to the affidavit, showed annual cash deposit shortages ranging from $51,000 to $86,000 and totaling more than $275,000.

Sole responsbility for deposits

As the company’s bookeeper and office manager, Ramirez had sole responsibility to deposit customer payments into the bank. When questioned about the deposit shortages following the audit, Ramirez did not provide any answers, but instead left her job, never to return, according to the affidavit.

Riverside County sheriff’s Detective Joe Peralta was assigned to the case and obtained a search warrant for Ramirez’s personal bank records from 2016 through 2020. He compared Ramirez’s cash deposits into her personal bank account to the deposit shortages discovered by the water company during its audit and found that they closely matched, according to the affidavit.

In 2019 alone, Ramirez deposited more than $79,000 into her bank account, but her W-2 for that year showed an income of $37,000. When Peralta questioned Ramirez about it, Ramirez claimed to have earned the extra money from gambling, according to the affidavit.

Sentencing next year

Ramirez, who did not respond to a request for comment for this story, has until the time of her scheduled sentencing on Jan. 10, 2023, to pay full restitution to her former employer, plus the fine to the District Attorney’s Office. However, she can be granted one extension, if needed, to pay, according to the plea agreement.

If Ramirez meets her financial obligation, she will receive two years formal probation and 120 days of work release or home detention. But if she fails to do so, she faces four years in state prison.

“Ms. Ramirez is looking forward to making full restitution in amends for the mistakes she made,” said her attorney, Ambrosio Rodriguez. “She takes full responsibility for what she did and is looking forward to getting this behind her and moving forward.”

He declined to say why Ramirez stole the money.

The Santa Ana River Water Co. is a small water company that supplies water to a population of approximately 6,500 people in a portion of Jurupa Valley and Mira Loma east of the 15 Freeway and bordered by Bellegrave Avenue to the north, Limonite Avenue to the south, Wineville Avenue to the west and Bain Street to the east. The company formed in 1925, according to its website.

Ramirez initially was charged on Oct. 21, 2021, with six felony counts of grand theft and forgery, plus an aggravated white collar crime enhancement for engaging in a “pattern of felony conduct” that “involved the taking of more than $100,000.” She pleaded guilty to one grand theft count, two forgery counts and the white collar crime enhancement.

‘Shocked’ to learn of crimes

Reached by telephone, Rupe said she has known Ramirez for more than 30 years and was shocked to learn of her crimes. “I’m just glad it’s behind us now. It was a lot of work to put the evidence together,” she said.

Rupe said she grew suspicious when Ramirez started coming up with excuses as to why an audit couldn’t be done. “She kept saying that the new computer program we got wasn’t compatible with the new one,” she said.

Rupe, however, was insistent, and an outside company ultimately was commissioned to conduct the audit.

“When (the auditor) pulled everything up, that’s when he discovered money missing,” Rupe said.

She didn’t understand why, after working off and on at the water company for so long, that Ramirez decided to steal.

“I can’t imagine why she did it, other than she did it once and discovered it was easy,” Rupe said. “I’m just disappointed. You think you know somebody and then discover that they’re not trustworthy. It sure has brought us to the point where we have all our checks and balances in place. Hopefully, it won’t happen again.”

Asked to comment on Ramirez’s conviction and the terms of her plea agreement, General Manager John Lopez said in an email, “We are happy to see justice being served.”

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