Embezzler worked from home, stole $800,000

A former payroll specialist who admitted embezzling nearly $800,000 from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing has been sentenced in federal court in San Jose to one year and seven months in prison.

Lisa McMahon, 53, of Mountain Home, Arkansas, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, who also ordered her to pay $798,469 in restitution.

McMahon pleaded guilty before Davila on March 31 to one count of committing wire fraud by carrying out an unauthorized transfer of $27,000 from an institute bank account to her retirement account.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said that during the plea, McMahon admitted to embezzling a total of nearly $800,0000 from her employer between 2005 and January 2012.

McMahon worked on payroll for the institute from 1996 to the spring of 2012, with responsibilities that included maintaining payroll records and transferring funds for payment of wages, retirement contributions, loans to employees and loan repayments.

Beginning in 2007, she was allowed to work remotely from Arkansas, where she and her husband had moved to help take care of her widowed mother.

The nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute conducts oceanographic research and is an independent sister institution to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey.

The one-year, seven-month prison sentence was a middle ground between a one-year term sought McMahon’s defense attorney and a two-year, nine-month sentence requested by prosecutors.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Cynthia Lie said in a sentencing brief that McMahon was emotionally fragile as a result of a turbulent childhood and appeared to have been motivated by a “subjective perception of her personal obligations” to aid family members and friends.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Guentert argued in a prosecution brief that while McMahon deserved credit for accepting responsibility for the crime, she “engaged in an extensive fraud that required skill and effort to execute and conceal over a period of more than six years.”

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