La Jolla Music Society sues ex-CFO

Chris Benavides pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud on Wednesday for taking more than $650,000 from the company.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The Jolla Music Society filed a lawsuit against its former chief financial officer the same day he pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit organization.

Chris Benavides, 52, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud on Wednesday for taking more than $650,000 from the company over nearly a decade.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Benavides used stolen funds between October 2011 and February 2021 to pay his mortgage, credit cards and other personal expenses.

The Jolla Music Society released the following statement on Thursday:

“The Board and staff of La Jolla Music Society are happy and relieved that we can now put this incident behind us and move forward. All internal problems that arose as a result of this person’s activities have been corrected and our financial situation is stable. We look forward to completing the rest of our winter season and kicking off SummerFest.

The allegations in Benavides’ plea deal are echoed in the lawsuit filed against him Wednesday in San Diego Superior Court.

He says Benavides, who started working for the La Jolla Music Society in 2006, wrote “dozens” of checks to himself and falsified the company’s accounting records to make the payments appear to be legitimate business expenses. . He also asked the company’s banks to perform automated funds transfers from the clearing house to third-party beneficiaries, according to the lawsuit.

Last February, the treasurer of the nonprofit’s board of directors discovered that at least nine payments had been made from La Jolla Music Society accounts to cover Benavides’ mortgage, according to the trial.

Following an internal investigation, Benavides was fired and the company reported the embezzlement to the police.

He is expected to be sentenced in May. While the wire fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, Benavides’ plea agreement states that the government will recommend that he be sentenced “at the lower end of the range recommended by the government. at sentencing”.