Brown Charges State Bar Employee with Embezzlement and Filing False Tax Returns

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Monday filed seven criminal charges against Sharon Elyce Pearl, who embezzled $675,000 from the State Bar of California to pay for “spa treatments, designer clothes, lavish meals, and fancy hotel rooms.”

“The defendant embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the State Bar of California over a period of eight years,” Attorney General Brown said. “She was responsible for collecting rent for the State Bar, but instead used the money to pay for spa treatments, designer clothes, lavish meals, and fancy hotel rooms.”

On Monday, April 6, 2009, Attorney General Brown filed seven criminal charges in Alameda County Superior Court against Ms. Pearl, 51, of Oakland. The charges include:

• One criminal count of embezzlement for violating section 504 of the state Penal Code.

• Six counts of filing false tax returns for violating section 19706 of the state Revenue and Taxation Code.

The State Bar of California admits attorneys for practice in the state, provides continuing education classes, and conducts disciplinary hearings.

In 1999, the State Bar purchased an office building at 180 Howard Street, San Francisco, for use as its headquarters. The State Bar inherited tenants who leased retail space within the building. As the Director of Real Property, Ms. Pearl handled building management and was responsible for collecting tenant’s rent.

As early as 2002, Ms. Pearl began to embezzle a portion of the rental funds she collected. Here’s how the scheme worked:
• Ms. Pearl directed some tenants to make their rent checks payable to “PLOT-The State Bar of California.” Unknown to the renters, “PLOT” stood for the Piedmont Light Opera Theatre.

• Ms. Pearl deposited some of the checks into accounts held by the Piedmont Light Opera Theatre (PLOT).

• Ms. Pearl, who was a signatory on the theater’s accounts, would then transfer funds from the theater accounts to her personal bank account.

• She would then use the embezzled funds to pay for spa treatments, designer clothes, lavish meals, and fancy hotel rooms.

Ms. Pearl was able to continue the scheme for years because the State Bar did not keep track of the rent payments it was owed.

The State Bar finally uncovered Ms. Pearl’s scheme in 2008 when she requested a check that she claimed was for a tenant’s security deposit refund. Because there were no records that the tenant in question had ever paid a security deposit, the State Bar launched an internal investigation into the financial discrepancies.

The State Bar ultimately discovered that Ms. Pearl was maintaining two sets of books, and the investigation was referred to the Attorney General’s Special Crimes Unit for prosecution.

Ms. Pearl has agreed to surrender herself to authorities next Monday. She could face up to nine years in state prison if convicted on all charges.

Copies of the complaint and arrest warrant declaration are attached.

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