The following press release was issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney:
Following an investigation by the Ukiah Police Department that began in June 2017, a local woman was charged by the Mendocino County DA in April 2020 of multiple counts of embezzling money from a Ukiah employer.
That bookkeeper, defendant SONIA LUCIA LAU, age 36, of Ukiah, was scheduled to have a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon in the Mendocino County Superior Court.
Instead, defendant Lau requested and was granted permission to withdraw her not guilty pleas and, in their place, she orally and in writing admitted criminal culpability.
Defendant Lau was convicted by no contest pleas of eight separate felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement from her former employer, Ammo Plus. She also admitted a special sentencing allegation that the eight counts involved a pattern of related felony conduct and that that pattern involved an overall taking greater than $100,000.
Under California law a no contest plea to a felony charge is the same as a guilty plea for all purposes. In essence, however, a no contest plea denies guilt but in the same breath also acknowledges that the prosecution has sufficient evidence available and at its disposal to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Tuesday, in providing a factual basis for the defendant’s no contest pleas, the DA summarized for the court the defendant’s embezzlement scheme that began in April 2014 and continued through April 2017, a scheme which resulted in an overall unlawful taking by defendant Lau of at least $204,492.
Once the convictions were entered into the record, the defendant was referred to the Mendocino County Adult Probation Department for a social and background study, and a sentencing recommendation.
A sentencing hearing will be held on January 26, 2021 at 9 o’clock in the morning in Department H of the Ukiah courthouse.
Any individual interested in the outcome of this case is invited to attend. Social distancing and facial coverings are required in the courthouse and will be enforced.
Based on her admissions, the defendant’s “prison” exposure is up to 92 months in the Realignment County Prison (aka the Low Gap jail facility), without subtracting out the fifty percent early release credits that are automatically granted by California law to all inmates.
As an aside, it should be noted that the Legislature has made defendants sentenced to prison for felony embezzlement convictions a county problem; such defendants are ineligible to be housed in a state prison no matter the overall amount of the unlawful taking.
The law enforcement agency that conducted the investigation underlying the defendant’s convictions was the Ukiah Police Department. Special thanks are extended to UPD Officer Ron Donahue for his doggedness and many hours of investigative work.
The attorney prosecuting this case and defendant is District Attorney David Eyster.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Carly Dolan accepted the defendant’s no contest pleas and her admission on Tuesday afternoon. Judge Dolan will be the sentencing judge on January 26th.
Pending sentencing, defendant Law remains out of custody on a written promise to appear.