A Petaluma bookkeeper is being accused of stealing more than $1.5 million from her Marin County employer, the largest yet in a string of embezzlement cases that have surfaced in the North Bay over the past two years.
Jodi Azevedo, 44, is suspected of siphoning funds from a San Rafael commercial real estate firm for nearly eight years by writing checks for herself and altering the books, San Rafael police said.
Police arrested Azevedo on Wednesday at her home on Casa Verde Circle. She was scheduled to be arraigned today and was being held on $1.5 million bail at the Marin County Jail.
"This woman is a born-again Christian, a Sunday school teacher, very active in her church, and she was very, very well-liked, so it was quite a shock," said her employer, Basil Plastiras, who hired her as a secretary about 16 years ago.
Azevedo worked for San Rafael-based Parkway Properties Investment Corp., and its parent company, Plastiras and Terrizzi.
Azevedo moved up within the company, which has 11 employees, working as a paralegal, office manager and eventually as bookkeeper and property manager.
"Jodi has been here, except for my law partner, longer than anybody," Plastiras said.
Plastiras discovered inaccuracies in the company's financial ledgers in early September and called police after a forensic accountant uncovered the alleged scheme, he said.
He confronted Azevedo on Sept. 10.
"She had work done at her house, work done on her grandmother's house," Plastiras said. "The day after I confronted her, she left town."
Several days later when police arrived at the home, newspapers and mail had begun to accumulate at the east Petaluma home, according to Plastiras' declaration in a civil suit he filed against Azevedo and her husband, Richard Azevedo, in Marin County Superior Court.
Her husband did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
For at least 10 years, Jodi Azevedo had access to some of the company's 28 bank accounts used for a range of functions, including two for each property the company manages, a trust, and employee retirement accounts.
"That was the worst," Plastiras said. "She stole money from her co-workers, many of them she'd worked with for years."
Azevedo is suspected of writing checks to herself since at least 2004, some amounting to thousands of dollars, Plastiras said.
In one case, the books showed she wrote a check for $35, however in reality she withdrew $5,000 from a company account, he said.
Detectives have not yet pinpointed entirely how Azevedo was using the stolen money, San Rafael Police Sgt. Mike Vergara said.
Azevedo earned degrees in business administration and accounting from Sonoma State University, according to her profile on the company's website, which has been removed.
Azevedo was a devoted volunteer with her church, Petaluma Christian Church, where she, for a time, ran children's programs, Plastiras said.
Pastor Bill Linton said he had not heard of her arrest and the news came as "a shock."
"We will give her the benefit of the doubt just like the law does," Linton said. "The fact of the matter is we are all sinners."
Azevedo is the sixth Sonoma County resident to be accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from a North Bay employer or nonprofit since 2011, a string of cases that collectively have involved more than $4 million in stolen money.