Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Appeals Court Rejects Timeliness Challenge to Theft Conviction
Crime Not ‘Discovered’ Until Reported to Responsible Agency, Justices Rule
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The four-year period in which to prosecute a theft of public funds was not triggered until the nonprofit entity tasked with distributing the money reported its suspicions to the responsible government agency, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight affirmed Kyron J. Moore’s conviction on charges that he and his sister stole more than $40,000 in social services funds by falsely claiming that Moore was caring for his sister’s children. Moore’s sister was also convicted of grand theft, and her conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeal in an unpublished opinion earlier this year.
Moore received the money, which he split with his sister, from Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit child development group that contracted with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services to distribute funds to child care providers.
Moore received $44,026 from Crystal Stairs, beginning in late 2000. Crystal Stairs said it first became aware of possible deception around May 2002, when it received documentation from the Long Beach YMCA showing that the organization actually provided care for the children.
On May 28, 2002, Crystal Stairs referred the matter to DPSS for investigation. A fraud prevention specialist for Crystal Stairs later explained that only a public agency could investigate the allegation of theft of public funds.
On May 17, 2006, prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Moore and his sister, Michelle Davis. They later brought an information charging both defendants with grand theft, as well as multiple counts of perjury by declaration for falsely stating under oath that Moore was caring for the children.
Both defendants moved to dismiss the information, arguing that the four-year limitations period expired before the complaint was filed, since Crystal Stairs was aware of any crimes “on or before May 8, 2002.”
Prosecutors responded that the complaint was timely under Penal Code Sec. 801.5, which provides that crimes such as grand theft, fraud and perjury may be prosecuted “within four years after discovery of the commission of the offenses.” They cited cases holding that “discovery” of a crime occurs when the victim or a responsible law enforcement official learns facts suggesting that a crime has been committed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Titus denied the motion, ruling that DPSS, not Crystal Stairs, was the victim of the crime, so the four-year period did not commence until the nonprofit group referred the matter to the public entity.
Justice Tricia Bigelow, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the defense argument was “interesting” but the trial judge was correct.
Cases holding that a person who is the “owner” of stolen property, or who is “directly injured” by theft or fraud, is a victim whose knowledge of the crime triggers the limitations period “do not persuade us to adopt his proposition that a third-party disbursing contractor is the ‘victim’ when a person defrauds a government funded program,” the justice wrote.
“Crystal Stairs never ‘owned’ the money that it disbursed. By the same token, Crystal Stairs was not ‘directly injured’ by Moore’s fraud because it did not lose any money that it owned. Fairly examined, Moore’s argument is that Crystal Stairs must be viewed as a ‘victim’ of his fraud because it was ‘dispossessed’ of money by his wrongdoing. We simply are not prepared to accept that definition of a fraud victim.”
Bigelow was joined by Acting Presiding Justice Laurence Rubin and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Helen Bendix, sitting on assignment.
Attorneys on appeal were Lise M. Breakey, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General James W. Bilderback II and Alene M. Games for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Moore, 09 S.O.S. 4845.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company