• Chris Benavides embezzled more than $650,000 from the La Jolla Music Society: Authorities
  • Officials said Benavides used organization funds to pay for his mortgage
  • They said Benavides’ embezzlement “became more and more sophisticated” over the years

The former finance director of non-profit La Jolla Music Society has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for embezzling staff salary increases over a period of 10 years, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said. The 52-year-old pleaded to a count of wire fraud earlier this year.

In a press release published Thursday, the Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of California said Chris Benavides embezzled more than $650,000 from the La Jolla Music Society, a non-profit based in La Jolla, California. The press release noted that while overseeing the organization’s budgeting process and human resources, Benavides “was stealing for himself an average of about $65,000 per year.”

For 10 years, Benavides’ “theft became more and more sophisticated,” the attorney’s office said in the press release. Benavides allegedly “regularly claimed that many staff salary increases were not possible due to budgetary constraints.” He went on to “regularly” plan his theft “in advance of each fiscal year, budgeting for the amount that he would take over the next 12 months and imbedding those expenses in various budget lines.”

The La Jolla Music Society sued Benavides in February, local news site Times of San Diego reported. At that time, the Attorney’s Office said Benavides used the Society’s funds between October 2011 and February 2021 for personal use such as credit card payments and even mortgage.

In the lawsuit filed against Benavides in February, it was stated that he issued “dozens” of checks to himself, KFMB-TV reported. He also fabricated the La Jolla Music Society’s accounting records so they will appear as authorized organizational expenses, the lawsuit stated.

The board treasurer first discovered that at least 9 payments for Benavides’ mortgage were made using the non-profit’s accounts, the lawsuit said. The board then initiated an internal investigation, which then led to Benavides’ removal from the organization and the lawsuit.

During the sentencing, La Jolla Music Society’s president and CEO Todd Schultz said Benavides was not in a financial bind in any way when he committed the theft of organization funds, adding that Benavides had a six-figure salary, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “He didn’t have to steal. He wanted to steal,” Schultz said.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo also said during Benavides’ sentencing that the embezzlement is “way more egregious when a nonprofit is involved.” Bencivengo imposed a 30-month jail sentence on Benavides – higher than the 2-year sentence initially requested by the prosecution.

Music students have, with heavy heart, abandoned their instruments at their college
Music students have, with heavy heart, abandoned their instruments at their college AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR