Orchestra leader siphoned away funds

The former executive director of a Los Altos orchestra has been found guilty of tax fraud in a case in which he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutors said Thursday.

Stephen Jay Carlton, the former head of the Peninsula Symphony Association, was found guilty Wednesday by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Allison Danner following a one-day non-jury trial on Nov. 24, Deputy District Attorney Judy Lee said.

Carlton, 46, of Novato, had previously pleaded guilty two months earlier to the embezzlement of $272,000 from the orchestra of volunteer musicians, prosecutors said.

The embezzlement was uncovered in September 2013 when a bank alerted a board member of the symphony association that its funds showed an unusually low balance. Carlton resigned shortly after the issue was brought to local police, prosecutors said.

An investigation by Los Altos police and the state Franchise Tax Board further showed that Carlton had written numerous checks to himself from the symphony and used some of the money to pay off debts, including back taxes, according to the district attorney’s office.

Carlton underreported wages from the symphony on state income tax returns between 2010 and 2012 and failed to report the embezzled money as income, prosecutors said. Carlton was found guilty by the judge Wednesday of a misdemeanor and two felony counts for filing false tax returns.

He remains in custody and faces up to 16 years in prison when he is sentenced. A sentencing date will likely be set at Carlton’s next court date on Jan. 8, Lee said.