Crime & Justice

Woman sentenced for union embezzlement

An ex-office manager was ordered today to spend five months in federal prison for embezzling $67,416 from a union that represents workers at Disneyland and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered Teresa Cora Luna to spend an additional five months in a less-restrictive lockup so that she will have more access to her children and be able to transition back into society more effectively. The 35-year-old had faced up to five years in federal prison.

Luna pleaded guilty last year to embezzling the money from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 504. The former office manager wrote 39 checks to herself out of the union's account, forging signatures of local union officers between November 2004 and June 2005, prosecutors said.

"I am very sorry for what happened," Luna told the judge. "I wish I was smart enough and strong enough not to do that."

Defense attorney Philip Deitch said his client hasn't been able to find a job for the past few years and has suffered from depression. He said she stole the money so she could pay for an expensive hockey program her two sons were enrolled in.

Her sons were getting in trouble, but the hockey program helped them, so she didn't have the heart to tell them she couldn't afford it anymore, Deitch said.

Luna is living with her fiancée and has handed over all of her finances to him, Deitch said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Mitchell and the judge noted Luna forged another union check right after she started plea-agreement negotiations with prosecutors.

Deitch acknowledged his client's actions, but said she did so because she was destitute and needed the money for food.

Deitch sought home confinement for his client, arguing she had no criminal record other than a traffic ticket and has to look after her ailing mother, but the judge agreed with the prosecutor that Luna must serve some prison time.

Carter wanted Luna enrolled in the less-restrictive "community corrections program" for the second half of her term because it will allow him to keep a closer eye on her.

"You're going to come in and see me at 7 a.m. once a month, and if I see you going sideways, that way I can catch you," Carter said.

The judge also ordered mental health treatment for Luna while she's in prison and told her to make restitution of at least $50 per month.