Modesto, Ceres embezzlement cases moving through federal courts

MODESTO — The United States Attorney’s office on Friday announced developments in two local embezzlement cases: A Stockton woman was indicted on a charge of taking funds from a Modesto union, and a Delhi woman pleaded guilty to stealing from the Ceres bank where she worked.

In the first case, Tracy Ford, 47, is accused of embezzling $174,891 from the Machinists Lodge 1528. Ford, who served as secretary-treasurer of the union, allegedly took the money in salary and benefits, some of it for a former union officer who in turn gave her the drug Oxycontin. She also is accused of trying to conceal the embezzlement by submitting a false financial report to the Secretary of Labor. The theft took place between September 2003 and February 2009, officials said.

Ford was arraigned Friday and released on her own recognizance. A status conference has been set before District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill for April 1. If convicted, Ford faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

No federal charges have been brought against the former union official for whom the benefits allegedly were provided, said Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s office.

Members of the Machinists Local Lodge 1528 had collective bargaining agreements with about 12 private employers, including Silgan Container Corporation, United Parcel Service, Interstate Brands and International Paper Company.

In the second case, Norma Pena, 37, pleaded guilty Friday to 14 counts of a federal grand jury indictment charging her with embezzlement by a bank employee and criminal forfeiture.

Between March 2009 and February 2010, Pena used her position as an assistant branch manager at the Citibank in Ceres to embezzle from the bank. She was charged with taking $217,000; she disputes the amount, which will be determined by the judge at sentencing.

As part of her plea agreement, Pena admitted that she created her own teller cash drawer, then took money intended to be placed there. To cover the thefts, she made electronic transfers from the drawer into the bank’s automatic-teller machine vault systems, without actually transferring any money from her cash drawer to the ATM vaults. Pena would then oversee the cash counts of the ATM vaults and other cash counts at the branch, in which she would cover up the amount of cash missing.

Pena could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine when she is sentenced on June 10.