A former credit card processing company employee was arraigned on Wednesday after she was charged last week with allegedly embezzling up to $559,000 over the past three years.
The 43-year-old suspect, Charlene Cortez-Avila, gave herself up to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. willingly on Jan. 17, after a warrant was issued for her arrest in connection to the disappearance of more than $500,000 from her former employers, Card Payment Solutions of Santa Barbara.
Suspicions of embezzlement arose last July when Card Payment Solutions discovered that funds were missing from its records. Cortez-Avila became a primary suspect when suspicious transactions between Card Payment Solutions and its banking institution led to her personal account.
Since October 2004, Cortez-Avila allegedly embezzled up to $52,000 a month. According to the Sheriff’s Dept., investigations indicate she was allegedly rerouting money exchanged between Card Payment Solutions and its banking institutions directly into her personal account.
Sheriff’s Dept. Sergeant Alex Tipolt said that if Cortez-Avila is convicted, the court will decide her sentencing based on any losses the victimized parties incurred.
“It depends on if the money is recoverable or not,” Tipolt said. “It depends on the decision by the judge. It will be determined in court.”
Records show that the amount of monthly transfers gradually increased. It was only after three years that Card Payment Solutions discovered an inconsistency in its merchant losses.
Card Payment Solutions’ management filed a police report with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept., which eventually acquired a search warrant for Cortez-Avila’s bank accounts. Once it was confirmed that Cortez-Avila’s accounts were the source of the alleged conflict, detectives obtained a warrant for her arrest.
Cortez-Avila is currently being held at the Santa Barbara County Jail on a bail of $557,000.00 – a bail equivalent to the amount she allegedly embezzled. Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnis Tolks said the defendant’s past will also have an impact on her sentencing if she is found guilty.
“Cortez-Avila has not remained free of prison custody within the past five years,” Tolks said.