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Petaluma woman convicted of embezzling $1.6 million from employer

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 1:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 1:14 p.m.

A Petaluma bookkeeper accused of embezzling nearly $1.6 million from a San Rafael real estate firm admitted to the theft in a plea bargain.

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Jodi Azevedo.

Plastiras and Terrizzi law firm

Jodi Michele Azevedo, 44, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two felony embezzlement counts and a penalty enhancement for white-collar crime, said her attorney, Richard Scott of Santa Rosa.

Azevedo is to be sentenced to six years in prison on Feb. 20 by Marin County Superior Court Judge Kelly Simmons.

Azevedo's plea came two months after her arrest, bringing swift resolution to one of the largest cases of embezzlement in recent years involving a Sonoma County resident.

"The evidence was very strong," said Basil Plastiras, an attorney who hired Azevedo as a secretary about 16 years ago. "Emotions have been all over the board. It ranges from anger and shock to concern about her welfare."

Azevedo worked for Plastiras' Parkway Properties Investment Corp. and its parent company, Plastiras and Terrizzi.

She started as a secretary and advanced within the company of 11 employees, working as a paralegal, office manager, bookkeeper and property manager.

For the past 10 years, she had access to many company bank accounts used to manage properties, trusts and other matters, Plastiras said.

Investigators said Azevedo wrote checks to herself, some amounting to thousands.

Plastiras said he called the San Rafael Police Department in September after he suspected something was amiss in the company's financial ledgers and a forensic accountant uncovered the scheme.

As part of the plea bargain, she agreed that the theft amount was $1,570,134.33, according to the Marin Independent Journal. Forty-four felony counts were dismissed in the plea arrangement.

Scott has represented other high-profile embezzlement defendants, including Eleanor Zapanta, 51, of Guerneville, who in May received a six-year prison sentence for stealing $712,000 from a Santa Rosa church.

In most cases, Scott said embezzlers begin by taking a small amount to handle an emergency expense and then spiral out of control.

"This is not a person who said, 'I'll work with this company and start systematically taking money,' " he said of Azevedo. "She was very apologetic and upset about it."

Plastiras said he has received about $75,000 in repayments through insurance, but he doubted he ever will receive restitution for the full amount.

A civil lawsuit against Azevedo is pending.

(This story was compiled from reports by Press Democrat Staff Writer Julie Johnson and the Marin Independent Journal.)

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