General Crime

* Sheila Accornero pleaded guilty of embezzling nearly $400,000 from a Santa Rosa charter school

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A finance and business manager convicted of embezzling nearly $400,000 from a Santa Rosa charter school for underprivileged children was sentenced this morning to more than four years in a state-run drug rehabilitation center. Sheila Accornero, 43, of Cloverdale, pleaded guilty in January to grand theft and forgery for stealing from the Kid Street Learning Center between December 2008 and August 2011.Accornero admitted that she was addicted to prescription drugs.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gary Medvigy noted a county probation department report said her habit at one point was 100 pills costing $1,000 a day. Medvigy sentenced Accornero to four years and eight months in prison, but directed her to serve her sentence at the California Rehabilitation Center. Accornero’s attorney, Steve Weiss, said after the sentencing that he expects his client to successfully complete the treatment program and be released possibly as soon as a year from now.

Accornero has 308 days’ credit for time she already served in county jail. Weiss asked the judge to impose a probation term. He said she has already made progress in overcoming her addiction, has the support of family and friends, and is extremely remorseful for stealing the money from the non-profit charter school.”This is a very clear case of criminality because of addiction,” Weiss said.

Deputy District Attorney Amy Ariyoshi argued against probation. She said Accornero’s conduct put the school at risk for its charter status and future grants, caused stress and medical issues for the school’s director and put the staff and children “in a crisis mode.” She said Accornero not only spent the $398,574 on her drug habit, but made lavish purchases at retail stores and bought a $9,500 SUV.

“The embezzlement was close to 85 percent of the school’s operating budget,” Ariyoshi said. Ariyoshi said she never sought help from friends or family for her prescription pills habit.Medvigy noted that “an enormous amount of money was involved” but that the impact on the school and the children was even greater.”This was an extreme violation of trust,” Medvigy said. Accornero was ordered to pay $398,674 in restitution to the school. Weiss gave Ariyoshi a check for $9,500 during the sentencing.

Both Ariyoshi and Weiss said sentencing Accornero to the rehabilitation center rather than to a state prison was appropriate. On its website, the K-6 Kid Street Learning Center lists its mission as providing children and families living in extreme crisis with a caring, supportive educational community to call home.The goal is to meet the emotional, social, psychological and educational needs of the children and establish a functioning family structure where children feel safe, secure and loved.

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