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.
"How many thieves do you think report their thievery to the IRS?" Petersen asked the jurors.
He also presented a contract signed by Steve Brutocao giving Mulcahy permission to sign checks on his behalf.
Steve Brutocao testified the contract he signed had fewer pages than the one presented in court and that it did not contain such a clause.
"Steve is lying," Petersen said.
Eyster called the defense's portrait of Mulcahy as a well-meaning man caught up in in an ignorant and greedy family's problems "baloney."
He suggested the contract, and many of the other documents and receipts presented by the defense, were fabricated by Mulcahy. Many of the documents could not be located within Brutocao's own files, he said.
"People manipulate paper," he said.
Petersen said it is the Brutocao family that has a history of fudging on paperwork.
He presented documents that indicated a payment to Mulcahy for moving expenses he'd incurred was paid to him under the guise of "furniture" in order to save on taxes.
During the trial, Mulcahy said he created two shell companies on behalf of Len Brutocao, now deceased, in order to camouflage the number of full-time workers the company employed, a move Petersen said was aimed at avoiding paying for employees' medical insurance after President Barack Obama was elected.