Founder pleads guilty to bilking school

The founder and former head of the private K-8 Mount Tamalpais School pleaded guilty to a felony embezzlement charge Monday for taking more than $1 million from the school, according to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said Kathleen Marie Mecca, 70, embezzled the money from the Mill Valley school between June 1, 2008, and Aug. 21, 2015.

Mecca had been living in Vera Beach, Florida, until she was arrested on April 4 by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office in Florida on Tuesday on suspicion of being a felony fugitive from justice.

According to her arrest warrant, Mecca diverted $1,054,042 from a Mount Tamalpais School director’s office account at Westamerica Bank that the school was unaware of and from a Bank of America account the school used for operating expenses.

Prosecutors said Mecca used 93 checks from the school’s account for her personal credit cards, and at least $32,240 was spent on purchases in Kona, Hawaii, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Half Moon Bay and at a resort where she was married in 2015.

School officials did not discover the embezzlement until Sept. 15, 2015, according to court records.

Two parents of children who attended the school asked the Marin County District Attorney’s Office on June 10, 2016, to investigate Mecca for embezzlement, according to her arrest warrant affidavit.

The school’s Board of Trustees negotiated a civil settlement for restitution in which Mecca paid the school $548,460.

Mecca founded the school in 1976. She served as Head of School until she retired on Aug. 31, 2015.

Mecca had faced up to five years in state prison but her plea agreement calls her to receive a four-year sentence and be allowed to serve one year of that term at the Marin County Jail.

She’s scheduled to be formally sentenced by Marin County Superior Court Judge James Chou on Oct. 30.