Restitution ordered for embezzlement

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
— When Jerry Sjoberg was in college, one of his professors told him he should work 40 hours a week to do well but strive for 60 hours if he really wanted to succeed.

Sjoberg took the advice and worked 60-hour weeks most of his life, sacrificing time with his family to turn his company, Home Design Manufacturing in Fontana, into a success.

But years of his hard work and sacrifice ended up into someone else's wallet.

Sjoberg's mistake, the businessman said, was to trust an employee who seemed hard-working and honest. He lost more than $900,000.

On Tuesday, former employee Kari Sue Clark-Branton, 40, Delavan, was ordered to pay Sjoberg more than $960,000 in restitution. She was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison followed by 2 1/2 years of extended supervision and 10 years probation.

"Kari's theft wiped out years of my hard-earned progress," he said. "The effect is certainly devastating monetarily but also devastating emotionally."

Clark-Branton was responsible for accounts payable and receivable at Home Design Manufacturing from 1992 to 2008. Sjoberg told police his accountant reviewed his business records back to 2001 and found more than $800,000 missing.

The accountant found about $498,500 in checks were written to Clark-Branton from 2001 to 2008 and about $413,500 in checks were written to a horse business owned by Joanne Anderson, who left the company after being accused of making unauthorized charges on the company's credit card.

Clark-Branton told police she wanted her friend to realize her lifelong dream of showing horses, according to the criminal complaint. She also told police she overpaid herself in paychecks and bonuses.

To cover up the thefts, Clark-Branton printed checks and forged Sjoberg's signature. Then she would go back to the computer that generated the checks and change the records from her name to a legitimate company's.

In court Tuesday, Clark-Branton apologized to friends and family. She did not address Sjoberg or apologize to her fellow employees at Home Design Manufacturing, some of which were present.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Hahn argued this was Clark-Branton's first offense and she did not pose a threat to society.

Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo said it was a purely greed-motivated act.

"I hope she doesn't try to present herself to this court as Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor," Donohoo said. "Robin Hood was a thief too; he was a criminal as well."

After the hearing, Sjoberg said honesty is still the best policy. But he urged employers to check their records and to not trust any employee.

"Nobody wins in something like this," he said.

Last updated: 10:59 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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