A Santa Clarita Valley woman was sentenced in court Friday to 51 months in prison after she admitted last year to having embezzled more than $1.7 million from her employer.
The woman, identified by U.S. Central District of California prosecutors as 45-year-old Judith Fernandez-Adelugba, is said to have developed the scheme to defraud her employer alongside with the help of her father and coworker’s husband — both of whom are also Santa Clarita Valley residents.
Due to their shared role in the scheme, George Fernandez, 75, of Stevenson Ranch, was ordered last year to pay $103,140 as part of a pretrial agreement with prosecutors and Alex Lawrence Wilkison, 49, of Canyon Country was ordered to pay $183,600 in restitution and serve a six-month federal prison sentence.
In a statement distributed on Friday, federal officials said the case against the trio stemmed from Fernandez-Adelugba’s time working as a chief human resources manager at a Santa Clarita-based business identified only as “Company-1” in court documents.
According to prosecutors, while employed at Company-1, Fernandez-Adelugba was responsible for the company’s diversity recruitment, which included implementing and managing programs to encourage persons from diverse gender, racial, ethnic, and other backgrounds to apply for jobs with her employer. She also had the authority to approve the payment of invoices of up to $25,000.
To assist in her scheme, she enlisted the help of her father, the president and CEO of the Stevenson Ranch-based company, Business Solutions Services, and Wilkerson, who was the registered owner of a fictitious Mission Hills company named Engineering Talent Connect.
“From March 2015 until her resignation from Company-1 in February 2018, Fernandez-Adelugba, her father, and Wilkison used BSS and ETC to embezzle Company-1 funds – money they used for their own personal enrichment,” federal officials said in their Friday statement regarding the Stevenson Ranch woman’s sentencing. “Participants in the scheme submitted to Company-1 fake invoices issued by BSS and ETC that requested payment for diversity recruitment-related services purportedly performed. These ‘services’ included posting job openings, placing job-related advertisements, searching for candidates, and successfully recruiting candidates for Company-1.”
Fernandez-Adelugba would then approve the fake invoices and deliver them to Company-1’s accounting department, which then paid out the fake invoices.
“After Company-1 issued payments on the fake invoices, Fernandez-Adelugba and her co-schemers used their illicit gains for personal expenditures such as trips to Las Vegas, credit card bills and dining at restaurants,” prosecutors said. “From March 2015 to November 2017, Fernandez-Adelugba caused 150 fake invoices to be submitted to Company-1, which in turn caused it to transfer a total of $1,745,964 to the two scheme-related companies – $1,562,364 to BSS and $183,600 to ETC.”
In exchange for their services, Fernandez-Adelugba paid kickbacks to her co-schemers, but kept more than $1.1 million for herself.
In addition to her four-year sentence, the Stevenson Ranch woman was ordered to pay $1,745,964 in restitution. During Friday’s proceeding, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter said Fernandez-Adelugba was “driven by pure greed” and that her criminal conduct had left her employer “shaken to the core.”
“Company-1 suffered more than just that feeling of betrayal,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “(Fernandez-Adelugba’s) embezzlement of funds earmarked for diversity recruitment caused Company-1 to fall behind its diversity recruiting goals. Because of (Fernandez-Adelugba’s) greed and selfishness, many worthy diverse engineers may have been denied potential careers at Company-1.”
Her sentencing was based on the single count of wire fraud she had pleaded guilty to in August 2021. Wilkison pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of wire fraud and Fernandez was charged in September 2021 with “misprision of a felony for failing to report his daughter’s act of wire fraud in March 2018 despite knowing of her criminal conduct.”
“Company-1” was described by officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a local company that “provided a technical and operations center for high performance racing programs and specialized in the design and development of high-performance automotive parts.”