A woman accused of embezzling more than $3 million from a La Jolla restaurant where she worked as a bookkeeper also defrauded her mother-in-law of $1.8 million, a police detective testified Monday.
Tara Virginia Moore faces grand theft, embezzlement, financial elder abuse and forgery charges. It was also revealed, on the first day of a preliminary hearing to determine whether she will stand trial on those counts, that she is under investigation for allegedly pocketing Veterans Administration death benefits to which she was not entitled.
San Diego police Detective Michael McEwen testified that Moore convinced her Navy husband's mother into backing her in a bogus development scheme involving 10 acres in Rancho Bernardo between 2006 and 2008.
The 40-year-old defendant promised the project would result in $20 million to $34 million in profits, according to the detective.
McEwen identified records of a series of transactions in which Dragica “Dorothy” Markovich wired large sums of money to her daughter-in-law. At first, he said, Moore explained the money was necessary for things like soil engineering and permits.
Then, in May 2007, she went to Markovich “in a panic” and demanded $384,000, telling her mother-in-law the “project would collapse” without the additional funds – and that the victim would lose her investment, the detective said.
Subsequent requests for money were all justified as protecting Markovich's investment in the “project,” according to McEwen.
He said Moore promised to repay the money with interest, and once produced a document showing her interest in a property in La Jolla as a sign of good faith. But the document was a forgery and she held no ownership in the property, according to the detective.
Moore's alleged fraud against Jack's La Jolla, where she worked as a bookkeeper, came to light when the restaurant's owner, Bill Berkley, hired a forensic accountant to examine the eatery's financial records dating back to 2003, according to prosecutor Bill Mitchell.
Moore worked for the Girard Avenue establishment for about four years, beginning in 2005. The business closed in August 2009 and more than 100 employees lost their jobs, Mitchell said.
Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said Moore was actually loaning some of her own money to help keep Jack's afloat. He said there was a signed agreement between Berkley and Moore in which the restaurateur acknowledged that money paid to Moore in partial repayment of her loans was authorized.
If convicted in that case, she could face up to 20 years in prison, the prosecutor said.
Moore, who is out of custody on bail, faces 12 years behind bars if found guilty of charges in the case involving her mother-in-law, the prosecutor said. Dragica Markovich, now in her late 70s, lost her retirement nest egg, he said.
The mother of two also is under investigation for allegedly illegally collecting spousal support from the Veterans Administration after her third husband died, Mitchell said.
Markovich's son Bobby, a Navy commander at the time, said he and Moore never lived together and she insisted he keep their union a secret, according to McEwen. “She said she was receiving benefits from the military and if the marriage became known, she'd lose the benefits,” the detective testified.
The detective said Bobby Markovich turned over all of his financial affairs to Moore.
“His complaint was she didn't do a very good job,” McEwen testified. “His bills weren't being paid, his credit cards were maxed out and his bank accounts were being drained.”
At the end of the preliminary hearing, which is expected to last several days, Judge Jeffrey Fraser will determine whether enough evidence was presented for Moore to stand trial.
–City News Service