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Ex-Chairman of Church Pleads Guilty to Stealing $11 Million

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LOS ANGELES – The former chairman of the board for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, of Los Angeles has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that he stole more than $11 million in church money via bank accounts for phony companies and tried to cover his tracks by impersonating a real estate developer.

Charles Thomas Sebesta, 55, of Huntington Beach, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud affecting a financial institution and one count of bank fraud. He has been in federal custody since his arrest in August 2019.

According to his plea agreement and other court documents, Sebesta was hired in 2001 as the church’s facilities manager and joined the church in 2005, ultimately serving as its local chairman. In this capacity, he had control over the church’s financial assets and operations, including some of its bank accounts.

From at least August 2006 through December 2016, Sebesta caused the church to make checks and other payments to fictitious companies for which he had opened bank accounts that he controlled, as well as to bank accounts he held in his own name and in the names of his family members and a female companion.

To further conceal these payments, Sebesta forged a church member’s signature on numerous checks drawn against the church’s bank accounts.

In the fall of 2008, Sebesta oversaw the sale of church property in Hollywood for approximately $12.8 million. He admitted that he siphoned a significant majority of the proceeds for his personal use, including purchasing a home with more than $2 million in cashier’s checks drawn from church bank accounts. The checks were falsely recorded in church records as “donations” and environmental remediation payments to a fictitious “Sky Blue Environmental” company.

In 2009 and 2010, Sebesta wired $1.86 million and $309,622 in church money to be credited to his own personal tax accounts in order to generate overpayment refunds to himself from the U.S. Treasury and the California Franchise Tax Board, respectively.

To conceal his crimes, Sebesta impersonated a real estate developer by creating an email account in the executive’s name. Posing as the developer, Sebesta sent emails to church members in which he fraudulently represented that the real estate developer was making donations to the church, including making rent payments for the church’s new location, and held Sebesta in high esteem.

Sebesta also admitted to defrauding another former employer – a private high school in Los Angeles County – out of $34,032. He also embezzled $36,282, which had been donated to the church by the estate of a donor. In total, Sebesta stole at least $11,438,213 of church assets, according to court documents.

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Drugs and Alcohol

15 Conspirators Charged in LA Drug Trafficking Ring Indictment

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LOS ANGELES – Law enforcement announced Wednesday they have arrested 11 defendants charged in a federal grand jury indictment in the Central District of California, alleging they participated in a long-running drug trafficking operation that distributed kilograms of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine from multiple locations in Los Angeles County, including a storefront in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles.

The 20-count indictment charges a total of 15 defendants with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and alleges a series of acts in furtherance of the conspiracy between December 2015 and December 2019.

Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized approximately eight kilograms of cocaine, five kilograms of heroin, 10 kilograms of methamphetamine, 10 firearms, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and more than $200,000 in suspected drug proceeds.

The 11 defendants arrested are expected to make their initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.

Those arrested include Gabriel Ortega, a.k.a. “Nightowl,” 42, of Lynwood, alleged to be one of the organization’s ringleaders who allegedly directed narcotics distribution operations from his home in Lynwood and from a storefront he operated in Lincoln Heights.

Ortega sold nearly one pound of methamphetamine for $2,800 on two separate occasions at his Lincoln Heights storefront between December 2015 and February 2016, the indictment alleges.

Also arrested was Raul Sanchez, a.k.a. “Rawlo,” 39, of Alhambra, another of the organization’s alleged ringleaders, charged with being one of the ring’s primary distributors of narcotics.

On March 21, 2018, Sanchez allegedly coordinated the delivery of 4.9 kilograms (10.8 pounds) of cocaine, 3.9 kilograms (8.6 pounds) of heroin, and 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of methamphetamine to a storage facility in Alhambra. He also allegedly possessed three unregistered “ghost guns,” one .45-caliber Glock pistol, and ammunition at the Alhambra location.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, Ortega and Sanchez each face individual charges of knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute controlled substances. Sanchez, who previously was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of four separate drug possession charges, also has been charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

If convicted on all counts, the defendants would face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison and mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years in federal prison. An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Bruce K. Riordan of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.

The Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Group 51 and the Los Angeles Police Department investigated this matter. HIDTA Group 51 is comprised of members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the LAPD.

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Pets & Animals

Man Enters Plea to Shooting Dog in La Mirada

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West Hollywood Doctor Indicted In Fraud Case

LOS ANGELES– A Lakewood man pleaded no contest for fatally shooting a dog last month, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has announced.

Shane Michael Dubyak, 23, entered the plea to one felony count of cruelty to an animal and admitted using a revolver in the commission of the crime.
 
Deputy District Attorney Mireya Camacho said Dubyak was immediately sentenced to five years in state prison and is prohibited from caring, owning or possessing any animals for 10 years.

On January 5, the defendant shot a 15-year-old terrier named Kurtis that was left under his care in the 16400 block of Phoebe Avenue in La Mirada, the prosecutor said. A few days later, police spotted Dubyak and he fled when they attempted to detain him but was ultimately arrested.

The case was investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Norwalk Station.

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Policing

Man Convicted in Pot Heist With Corrupt LA Sheriff’s Deputy

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LOS ANGELES (SGV Tribune) — A former marijuana distribution warehouse worker faces at least a dozen years behind bars Monday for working with a corrupt Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy to stage a $2 million robbery at a marijuana distribution warehouse.

Christopher Myung Kim, 30, of Walnut, was convicted of drug crimes and conspiracy last year by a federal jury. He faces a mandatory minimum of 12 years when sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips.

Evidence showed Kim had worked at the warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and supplied blueprints and other […]

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