Suspects plead guilty in public funds embezzlement case

Lynn Hogan

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced Wednesday that the last two people involved in a county public works embezzlement scheme have pled guilty.

Leanna Harada, 43, and Michael Anzivino, 46, pled guilty to felony charges of theft of public funds, forgery, and conspiracy to steal public funds. Anzivino also pled guilty to six felony counts of money laundering.

Last year, a district attorney’s office investigation led to the arrest of an accountant for the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department and eight others for allegedly embezzling more than $2 million in public funds.

Investigators determined that Lynn Hogan, who worked as an accountant in the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department, had been creating false invoices and issuing fraudulent checks over a 9-year period on behalf of several fictitious vendors including Harada and Anzivino, as well as others that Anzivino recruited into the conspiracy.

Prosecutors also filed charges against Wendy Puchli, Michele Lavin, Michael Elliott, Richard Kaplinski, Christina Huffman, and Vincent Anzivino for participating in the scheme.

On Aug. 8, Anzivino will be sentenced to 13 years, eight months in prison, and ordered to pay $2,051,471 in restitution to Santa Barbara County. Harada will be sentenced to five years probation, 270 days in the county jail, and ordered to pay $54,600 in restitution.

Hogan, 48, previously pled guilty to felony charges of theft of public funds, forgery, and conspiracy to steal public funds and was sentenced on June 6 to nine years, eight months in prison, and was ordered to pay $2,051,470 in restitution.

Additionally, pursuant to California Government Code section 7522.72, Ms. Hogan forfeits all her retirement benefits from the County of Santa Barbara earned or accrued from May 27, 2008 to July 25, 2017.

Michelle Lavin, 58, pled guilty on May 30, to felony charges of theft of public funds, forgery, and conspiracy to steal public funds and will be sentenced on July 11, to five years in prison, and will be ordered to pay $311,918 in restitution.

Wendy Puchli, 50, pled guilty on June 13, to felony charges of theft of public funds, forgery, and conspiracy to steal public funds and will be sentenced on August 8, to six years in prison, and will be ordered to pay $426,063 in restitution.

Christina Huffman pled guilty on May 20 to felony charges of theft of public funds, forgery, and conspiracy to steal public funds and will be sentenced on July 18 to 5 years probation and 180 days in the jail, and will be ordered to pay $28,517 in restitution.

Michael Elliott, who cashed a fraudulent check in 2012 for $10,421, will make full restitution to Santa Barbara County and the charges against him will be dismissed.

Because of evidence that they may have been unwitting accomplices in the conspiracy, the charges against Richard Kaplinski and Vincent Anzivino were dismissed.

“The successful prosecution of this case would not have been possible without the cooperation of multiple Santa Barbara County departments, the thorough and rigorous investigation of Supervising District Attorney Investigator Chris Clement and the excellent leadership of Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota,” according to Dudley. “This theft was a direct assault upon the people of Santa Barbara County. It is my hope that this timely disposition and the ensuing state prison sentences will send a clear message to others.”

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