Mark Neider said he loved his North Bay Regional Center social worker, Larry Gene Sark.
But that was before the developmentally disabled Santa Rosa man found out Sark had been stealing from him and 34 others to the tune of about $385,000.
Neider expressed his disappointment Thursday at a Sonoma County Superior Court hearing in which Sark was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
It was especially galling, Neider said, that Sark had been treating himself to expensive trips and fine restaurants while Neider was unable to afford to take his 10-year-old son to the movies or miniature golfing.
“It’s not cool,” Neider told the white-haired Sark, 67, before he was led away to begin his punishment. “He pretty much robbed me of my life.”
Neider was one of about a half-dozen North Bay Regional Center clients to voice their feelings about Sark on Thursday in a Santa Rosa courtroom. The center serves people with mental disabilities and conditions like autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
Sark, a 23-year employee who was responsible for helping disabled people manage their finances, instead forged their signatures on the backs of their Social Security checks and deposited the money into his own accounts.
The embezzlement, which police believed involved as many as 51 victims, occurred from 2006 until Sark retired in 2012. Individual losses ranged from about $1,200 to more than $29,000.
Sark, who received a salary of $55,000 a year, pocketed from $3,000 to $7,000 a month, prosecutor Sharmalee Rajakumaran said. He spent some of it on an Egyptian honeymoon, trips to high-end golf resorts and gourmet restaurants, police said.
The Santa Rosa man was arrested earlier this year when police, investigating allegations of inappropriate contact with a client, discovered he had been cashing checks.
There was no criminal conduct in the relationship, but Sark was found to be embezzling funds. In May, he pleaded no contest to 34 counts of elder theft with enhancements for white-collar crime and losses of more than $150,000.
“He stole from the most vulnerable members of society,” Rajakumaran said.
Sark reached a plea deal with Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite to be sentenced to no more than a dozen years in prison. Prosecutors and probation officials sought a 40-year sentence.
Thistlethwaite agreed with Sark’s attorney, Ben Adams, that he should someday be released to start repaying his victims. Under state sentencing laws and with credit for time already served, Sark could be out in five years.
“His criminal behavior is unacceptable and it’s sickening, Mr. Sark,” said the judge as she turned and pointed a finger at him. The court ordered $254,750 in restitution for 26 of the 35 victims.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the punishment was too light.
“The defendant’s sophisticated scheme, profound abuse of trust, and lack of remorse call out for a lengthy prison term, far exceeding that which he received today from the court,” Ravitch said in a statement.
An insurance company paid North Bay Regional Center officials $200,000 but it has not yet been distributed, the prosecutor said. She said officials still were trying to determine how much to give each victim.
The hearing was attended by Thomas Maseda, the center’s director of administrative services, who declined to comment on the details of the case.