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Former Los Alamitos charity assistant sentenced to 4 years for embezzlement

The executive assistant of a Los Alamitos youth crisis shelter was sentenced today to four years in state prison for embezzling more than $435,000 from the shelter and splurging on an extravagant personal lifestyle, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Lydia Kathleen Fitzgerald, 48, formerly of Los Alamitos, pleaded guilty in December to 23 felony counts of forgery, 16 felony counts of falsifying a book of records, three felony counts of computer access fraud, three felony counts of filing false tax returns, and one felony count each of grand theft, fraudulently using an access card, second-degree commercial burglary and willfully failing to file a tax return.

Fitzgerald has been ordered to pay more than $390,000 in restitution to the Casa Youth Shelter, a charitable organization in Los Alamitos that provides temporary shelter and counseling for runaways and youth in crisis.

She must also repay the state Franchise Tax Board more than $93,000 plus 10% interest from the date of loss, prosecutors said. According to prosecutors, Fitzgerald embezzled the funds between April 2004 and November 2007 by forging numerous checks to herself and charging personal expenses for herself and family members on a company credit card.

Fitzgerald used the money to remodel her home and purchase vacations, meals, clothes, a car, a boat and other luxury items, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.

In an effort to cover up the theft, Fitzgerald altered the shelter’s books and records, transferred money into the facility’s payroll account from a line of credit she opened in the shelter’s name, and reimbursed the shelter’s accounts $45,000 in stolen funds.

The onetime executive assistant failed to pay taxes on the income from the stolen money, prosecutors said. Addressing the court during sentencing, Stephen Ellis, director of Casa Youth, said the shelter has endured a decrease in donations because of an erosion of trust caused by Fitzgerald’s misdeeds, prosecutors said.

-- Ann M. Simmons

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