A Santa Rosa woman who admitted embezzling $392,000 from the Sonoma Golf Club was sentenced Wednesday to a year in the county jail.
Lidia Montano, 53, stole the money while she was the club's business manager from 2007 to 2010 by giving herself unauthorized raises and paying personal bills with company accounts.
She spent the money on travel, shopping and restaurants, apparently in an attempt to maintain a comfortable lifestyle after her husband lost his job, prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi said.
"Instead of curtailing her expenses, she just made up the difference," Ariyoshi said.
She was caught in August 2010 while away from work on an Italian vacation. The payroll company called to inquire about discrepancies and reached the club's manager, who launched an internal audit.
Montano was fired from her $87,000-a-year job and arrested. She made a full confession and in December pleaded no contest to a count of felony grand theft with a white-collar crime enhancement.
She faced up to five years in state prison, but Judge Virginia Marcoida gave her a break, citing her lack of a criminal record, her age and mental health issues.
Also, Montano has repaid $190,000 of the $392,735 that was stolen.
She had been free on bail but was taken into custody to begin serving her time. Under the terms of the sentence she will not be eligible for work release. She could be out in about nine months.
General Manager Mike Kosak, who hired Montano in 2005, said she should be barred from working in accounting again.
"I blame myself for taking my eye off the ball," said Kosak, who runs the 295-member private club on Arnold Drive. "It's hard to believe anyone would do that to you when they walk in and say good morning and good night every day. I feel a lot of betrayal."
Kosak said the theft was covered by insurance and had little effect on operations. The club, owned by Crescent Real Estate Equities of Fort Worth, Texas, hosted the Charles Schwab Cup Championship through 2009.
The club did not change hands in the recent sale of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, which has an access agreement to the 118-acre championship course.
The audit revealed that about two years after Montano began working as the club's controller, she started embezzling money, in part by manipulating payroll. It happened over a 2-1/2-year period, from July 2007 to August 2010.
"Basically she would call the payroll company and give herself pay raises," Ariyoshi said.
During that time, Montano ran up about $235,000 on credit cards to pay for things like golf clubs, gym memberships, eating out and income taxes, Ariyoshi said.
"It was all lifestyle stuff," he said.
The theft went undiscovered for so long because the club with its five office workers is small and because Montano had become a trusted employee.
"It's unfortunate," Kosak said, "to have your trust violated in that fashion is not a pleasant feeling."
Montano was the latest in a string of Sonoma County embezzlers sent to jail or prison.
Eleanor Zapanta, 51, of Guerneville pleaded no contest Monday to stealing $712,000 over a six-year period while working as business manager of the Center for Spiritual Living. She will be sentenced to six years in prison.
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