Danielle Steel's embezzling former assistant will go to jail
Mega-bestselling author Danielle Steel's former assistant, Kristy Watts, was sentenced Tuesday to two years and nine months in jail for stealing more than $750,000 from the San Francisco-based writer.
Watts, now 48, worked for Steel from 1993 to 2008. Her responsibilities included payroll, accounting and coordinating household and travel expenses; she was dismissed after Steel began to suspect financial irregularities. When she filed a civil suit against Watts in 2009, Steel said she had been defrauded of $2.7 million.
Few authors could have that much disappear from their bank accounts without noticing. But Steel's not just any author; her book sales are phenomenal. Now 62, she has written 76 bestsellers. That's a lot of books for a single author to churn out, let alone get onto bestseller lists. In total, Random House says more than 590 million Danielle Steel books have been sold, and they keep selling. While Steel continues to publish new books, her older titles -- such as "Crossings," "A Perfect Stranger," "Malice," "Family Album" -- are widely available. Steel's ongoing popularity has paid off: In 2008, her $30 million in earnings put her at No. 5 on Forbes' list of the world's best-paid authors.
In a 1988 interview with Nikke Finke, then a staff writer with the L.A. Times, Steel said, "I'm obviously one of the more successful writers in the country and probably one of the higher paid, but I think other people are more aware of it than I am." She revealed just how little she concerned herself with money:
Just that morning, she says, she had admired a pair of antique French crystal lamps in Architectural Digest and impulsively called Paris to place an order. She had calculated their cost at $2,200 for the pair -- "which I thought was a little steep to begin with. And then the store told me I'd made a little mistake in my conversion. They were $215,000.
"Would a woman who can't figure out if she's buying a $2,200 lamp or a $215,000 lamp know how much money she has?" She smiles sweetly.
Watts began working for Steel five years later. The Associated Press reported that she earned a $200,000 annual salary while working part time for Steel. She was accused of siphoning off money from the author, writing checks to "cash" and depositing them in her own account, paying herself more than she was owed and using Steel's credit card reward points for herself and her family. In the criminal case -- for which she was sentenced Tuesday -- Watts admitted to embezzling aboput $400,000 from the author.
Authorities said the funds went to Watts' "lavish lifestyle," including a $1.3-million home in the Bay Area. Watts has already begun to make restitution to Steel; in court on Tuesday, she read a statement saying she had been motivated by "envy and jealousy" of the author, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
According to the Associated Press, Watts is married to an officer in the San Francisco Police Department.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Danielle Steel, right, talks to Robin Williams at a Bay Area benefit in 2002. Credit: Ross Cameron / Associated Press