ABAG embezzler gets pri­son for stealing millions

A former finance official with the Association of Bay Area Governments was sentenced in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday to one year and one day in prison for a fraud in which he admitted embezzling nearly $3.9 million in bond funds.

Clarke Howatt, 56, now of Portland, Ore., was given the prison term by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who also ordered him to spend six months in home confinement after release from prison.

Howatt was formerly a financial services director in charge of bonds issued by an ABAG affiliate, the ABAG Finance Authority for Nonprofit Corporations, known as FAN. ABAG, based in Oakland, is a regional planning agency for nine Bay Area counties.

Howatt pleaded guilty before Breyer in December to one count of wire fraud in the electronic transfer of $1.3 million in stolen funds, and at the same time admitted to other thefts bringing the total amount embezzled to nearly $3.9 million between June 2011 and January 2015.

The stolen bond proceeds were related to the Rincon Hill highrise development in the South of Market District of San Francisco and the Windemere Ranch housing development in San Ramon.

The funds were intended to be used for public works such as streets, sidewalks and schools to offset the impacts of building developments.

At the time of his guilty plea, Howatt and his parents had repaid ABAG about $3.5 million and the agency was satisfied with that amount of restitution, according to court filings.

The maximum possible sentence for the fraud conviction was 20 years.

In a sentencing brief asking for leniency, defense attorney Mary McNamara said Howatt was “deeply remorseful” and had suffered from manic phases of a bipolar disorder that was not treated with appropriate medication.

Prosecutors in an opposing brief unsuccessfully asked for a heavier sentence of three years and three months in prison.

They wrote that Howatt deserved credit for cooperating in the investigation and seeking to pay restitution, but argued that despite any medical problems, his conduct showed “concerted and coordinated steps to achieve his goals” in the embezzlement over three and one-half years.