Tangled Brutocao winery fraud case now in jurors' hands

A Mendocino County jury will begin deliberating Friday in the case of a Healdsburg winery owner charged with forging signatures on 57 checks while working as the finance officer for Brutocao Cellars in Hopland.

The felony charges against Chris Mulcahy, co-owner of Sapphire Hill Winery, carry a potential sentence of about 40 years in prison, according to his attorney, Justin Petersen.

At the center of the case is whether Mulcahy had permission to sign co-owner and president Steve Brutocao's name on the checks, including ones written to Mulcahy, who formerly worked for Coca-Cola.

He did not have that permission, according to the prosecution.

"It's fraud, and it's stealing money," District Attorney David Eyster told jurors during closing arguments Thursday. Mulcahy, who lives in Cloverdale, is not charged with embezzlement, but he is charged with special allegations that the alleged check fraud resulted in financial losses to the Brutocao family.

"There was no way the loss was under $200,000," Eyster said.

The Brutocao family testified that they did not give Mulcahy permission to sign Steve Brutocao's name. They fired him in 2012 and reported him to law enforcement, saying he had committed forgery and stolen $250,000 in the process.

Petersen told jurors Mulcahy had permission to write checks on behalf of his bosses, an efficiency measure designed to save time. He also said Mulcahy had written the checks to himself because the Brutocao family owed him money. He said the checks did not even cover the full amount owed to Mulcahy.

"In the end, the person who actually owes money is Steve Brutocao," Petersen said during closing arguments Thursday. He estimated the Brutocao family, which he portrayed as dysfunctional and entitled, was trying to cheat Mulcahy out of an estimated $70,000 they owed him.

Petersen presented the jury with reams of documents to support his client's contention that he was authorized to sign checks for Brutocao and that the checks were legitimate. They included tax documents indicating Mulcahy had paid taxes on the money he is accused of stealing.

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