By Joshua Cenzano
SANTA BARBARA, CA –Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Von Deroian ruled Monday that the prosecution had enough evidence at a preliminary hearing to charge local banker Manuel Edward Torres with 15 counts, including embezzlement of more than $600,000 and failure to file tax returns.
Torres, president of the board of a local bank, was found to have written checks to himself in his own name and with the forged signature of the treasurer who had since left her position. The lead investigator of the embezzlement, Chris Clement, testified Monday to the amount and the manner in which Torres was able to embezzle approximately $80,000 a year since 2009.
An investigator from the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the California Franchise Tax Board, Lisa Gunson, also testified as to Torres’ suspected failure to report income on his tax returns since 2012 and his suspected failure to file any tax returns whatsoever between 2009 and 2011.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Cota guided Clement during direct examination on the embezzlement charges, where Clement affirmed the amounts that Torres was suspected of embezzling and the manner in which he did so.
Torres’s defense attorney, Michael Scott, explored the possibility that the checks Torres made out to himself from his bank were in fact for legitimate reimbursements.
Scott probed further and Clement agreed during cross-examination that certain reimbursements for instances such as luncheons, retirement gifts, and some events and festivals are permissible if paid for originally by Torres.
He testified that Torres would ordinarily be required to present a receipt of a given purchase and acquire his own signature as president and that of the treasurer for reimbursement.
A further source of discrepancy stemmed from the fact that the bank’s treasurer had left her position while checks in her name were still being paid to Torres.
Scott’s defense hinged on the fact that Clement was unable to confirm or preclude the occurrence of any specific reimbursable event for a given check, looking to cast doubt on the charges.
Investigator Gunson later testified regarding the tax evasion charges, maintaining that the Franchise Tax Board had no record of Torres’s taxes between 2009 and 2011. She also affirmed that the money he allegedly embezzled was not reflected in his existing tax returns, calling those into question as well.
Gunson interviewed Torres’s tax preparer, who was able to produce a record of his tax returns during the missing years. Despite her internal records, Gunson produced a certification of lack of record from the Franchise Tax Board for the relevant interval, leaving the discrepancy up to the court.
After hearing the evidence, Judge Deroian ruled that the prosecution had produced enough evidence and set the date of arraignment on all counts for Oct. 22 at 1:30 p.m.
Defense Attorney Scott remarked toward the conclusion of the hearing that the prosecution may expect a plea of not guilty at that time.