Merced consultant vows to repay allegedly stolen funds

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 21, 2013 

Local political consultant Mary Ward claims she will soon repay the nearly $23,000 she confessed to stealing from the Agribusiness Committee of Merced County, according to her attorney.

Merced Superior Court Judge Marc Garcia allowed Ward on Tuesday to put off pleading no contest to the charge of felony embezzlement in response to promises she would repay the money in short order.

Ward will be able to return the funds after she settles a tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service, said her attorney Richard Harriman.

“IRS improperly took funds from Ward’s husband,” he said. “When the funds are retuned from the IRS, she will be able to make the other party whole.”

A court hearing has been scheduled for April 2, at which time Ward is expected to plead to the charge.

Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall said he was amenable to the idea of giving Ward more time to consider her plea.

“In these types of cases, one of our primary goals is to recover the money,” he said. “Our response is ‘OK, we’ll agree to continue arraignment on your promise that you’re going to pay the entire amount back.’”

In June, Ward was investigated after the Agribusiness Committee contacted the Merced Police Department.

Members of the committee became suspicious of Ward, who was the committee’s treasurer, after she incorrectly reported the account fund balance.

The committee organizes the Farm City Banquet at the Merced County Fairgrounds, puts on the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day for local third-graders and provides college scholarships related to agriculture.

When questioned by authorities, Ward provided an itemized list of checks she’d written to herself from the committee, according to the police report. She also told police that the IRS had frozen her assets, and she was afraid of losing her home.

Ward faces a maximum of three years in county jail, Wall said. “I have communicated an offer for her to plead, and I have not received a definitive response.”

Harriman said the plea negotiations are ongoing. “We’re still in negotiations to see what the terms and conditions are of the plea.”

“This is her First offense,” he added. “I think it would be unlikely that she would serve time in jail.”

Ward is probably best known for her connection to Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani. As a consultant to the assemblywoman, Ward claimed she was improperly fired for accusing another staffer of falsely billing his time.

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