Lolita Garcia could have raised a few eyebrows among employees when she showed up to her Monterey nonprofit that helps special needs children driving a Maserati and carrying a Luis Vuitton handbag.
She had a story ready to explain her lavish lifestyle while making around $90,000 a year as executive director of Central Coast Kids & Families: she came into a large family inheritance.
Court records filed by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office tell a different story, however.
The DA contends that Garcia diverted $675,000 out of the nonprofit’s bank accounts to pay for that lifestyle. It charged her with felony embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion.
Garcia pleaded not guilty to all charges on March 29 at her arraignment in Monterey County Superior Court.
Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Roberts also appointed Salinas attorney William Pernik as the receiver—a neutral professional temporarily taking over professional management—of CCKF.
In addition, the judge agreed to allow Garcia to continue using a 2018 Land Rover she purchased in February, despite a motion filed by the Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Emily Hickok to seize the vehicle, along with three other luxury vehicles seized by the DA.
Garcia was arrested March 19 in Santa Cruz, where she lives, the culmination of an investigation that goes back nearly two-and-a-half years.
According to Hickok, a CPA hired by Garcia in August 2015 to complete delinquent tax returns for CCKF became concerned by transactions that appeared to show Garcia diverted funds out of the nonprofit to benefit herself.
The CPA reported his suspicions to the California Attorney General’s Office, which in turn contacted the DA’s office.
In January 2016, Garcia was interviewed by DA investigator Jackie Meroney, telling Meroney she was the sole bookkeeper for the nonprofit, and turning over records from 2013-2014. A subsequent forensic audit led investigators to believe that those records were incomplete.
The DA’s office served warrants on Garcia’s bank accounts and credit cards, which led them to believe that Garcia had transferred the $675,000 between 2013 and 2015 to pay for her lifestyle.
In court documents Meroney states she interviewed several CCKF employees, who “acknowledged Lolita Garcia’s lavish spending, and indicated to me that she said she had inherited money.”
Besides several vehicles—including a 2009 Porsche Carrera and a 2015 Maserati—other purchases included a $9,000 Rolex watch and $8,000 for apparel, including three Luis Vuitton handbags.
She also allegedly spent $34,500 for her daughter’s private high school tuition and donations to the school’s rock band, and more than $33,000 for entertainment expenditures, including sports tickets.
It’s also estimated that Garcia may have taken out more than $155,000 to pay off credit card bills, withdrew $62,000 in large increments of cash from CCKF accounts, and transferred $8,500 into her daughter’s bank account.
The DA’s office also contends that Garcia did not report all of her income for the years 2013-2015.
After Garcia was interviewed by Meroney in January 2016, the executive director switched CCKF’s status from nonprofit to a for profit LLC with the state Attorney General’s office.
“I believe Garcia is purporting to do business under the LLC currently and she does not currently have a board of directors overseeing this business,” Meroney states in court documents.
The IRS revoked CCKF’s nonprofit status on May 15, 2016, for failing to file Form 990s, a form required of all nonprofit organizations.