By JOSH FRIEDMAN
In a surprise move, Sherry Gong, the wife of San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to embezzling more than $32,000 from the booster club of the Atascadero High School band.
Gong, the former treasurer for the booster organization, initially pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement. She changed her plea on Tuesday, pleading guilty to the charges without reaching any agreement with prosecutors, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.
Before Gong entered the guilty plea, Judge Jacquelyn Duffy indicated she will grant probation and made no promise of how much jail time she would order Gong to serve. A defendant placed on probation for felony grand theft by embezzlement convictions can be required to serve a maximum of one year in county jail as a condition of probation.
But if the defendant were to violate the the terms of probation, the individual could be sentenced to state prison for the remainder of the maximum allowable sentence, which in Gong’s case, is four years and four months.
The criminal complaint filed by the district attorney’s office alleged Gong took $3,104 out of an Atascadero High School Band and Pageantry Booster Club bank account on about July 5, 2017. Then on about April 24, 2018, Gong allegedly lifted $19,000 from a second booster club bank account. Later the same day, Gong allegedly took another $9,850 from another of the club’s accounts.
Gong’s attorney, Guy Galambos, previously said in a statement his client admitted to taking funds from the booster club, though she “borrowed” the money to address a family emergency. Galambos’s account of the personal use of booster club funds did not match the time of the embezzlement allegations in the criminal complaint.
Gong tried to recoup the money by borrowing from extended family members and selling some of her jewelry, her attorney said. Gong admitted her actions in an interview with Atascadero police detectives and presented replacement funds in the form of a cashier’s check.
Tommy Gong, who has supported his wife amid court proceedings, did not learn of the embezzlement case until after his wife’s interview with Atascadero police, Galambos said. Tommy Gong was never implicated in the case.
The SLO County Probation Department will now prepare a sentencing recommendation report for Duffy’s consideration. Sherry Gong’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 2 in Duffy’s courtroom.