Two Palm Springs men pleaded guilty today to embezzling from two Palm Springs property owners and multiple vacation home renters and were immediately sentenced to three years' probation.
Michael Maloney, 52, and Matthew Wehling, 48, each pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement -- one felony and one misdemeanor. They were originally charged with 15 counts of embezzlement. The remaining charges were dismissed, although they will pay restitution all the victims in the case, according to Deputy District Attorney Brian Bolland.
``They agreed to take responsibility for all those counts,'' he said.
Bolland said Maloney and Wehling embezzled about $57,000 total from the property owners and 14 prospective renters, many of whom were from out of state. They embezzled roughly $14,000 from one property owner and $15,000 from the other, he said.
Regarding the prospective renters, ``a lot of it was not getting security deposits back or people arriving in Palm Springs and the property not being available and not getting compensation from that,'' Bolland said.
The 15 embezzlement charges spanned March 2009 to April 2011.
Palm Springs resident Kevin Corcoran testified at a preliminary hearing in June that Wehling and Maloney, who were friends, rented out his house from January to May 2010. They sent him checks from two bank accounts under Wehling's name, and they all bounced, Corcoran said.
``The mantra in (our) email communication was, `Hold on, the money will be deposited very soon,' '' he said.
Corcoran said he discovered that renters were told to wire funds to accounts and were then told their reservation was canceled or they'd have to rent at another property. He said as far as he remembered, he was never paid for rental transactions done by Wehling and Maloney, and they kept booking renters for his house after he told them to stop.
``The checks started to bounce and I knew something was wrong,'' he said.
Eventually, he went to the police and the District Attorney's Office. He said he did an Internet search on Maloney and found he was a convicted felon with a ``laundry list'' of other cases.
``I was stunned,'' he said.
Palm Springs police Sgt. Gustavo Araiza testified that the two bank accounts under Wehling's name were closed because of fraud alerts, and there was ``check kiting `` -- writing a check for a value greater than the balance from one account in one bank, then writing a check from another account to cover the non-existent funds from the first account.
He talked to two people who said they had each submitted more than $2,000 to rent a residence, then were told it wasn't available.
They were sent reimbursement checks, which bounced when they tried to cash or deposit them, the sergeant said.
Another person who stayed at the house were supposed to get part of their security deposit back, but the reimbursement check for that also bounced, he said.
Araiza testified that he found a ``trend'' of non-sufficient funds in both bank accounts under Wehling's name when he served search warrants on the accounts.
Maloney's attorney, Michael Rowlands, argued at the preliminary hearing that his client didn't have contact with the victims related to half of the criminal charges, and alleged victims said information came from Wehling.
According to police, Maloney and Wehling posed as vacation rental agents over a two-year period, showing clients online photographs of properties they claimed were for rent.
They would rent out homes owned by local residents using websites such as ``Homeaway'' and ``Vacation Rentals by Owner,'' according to police.
Maloney also pleaded guilty today to one felony identity theft-related count in a separate 2009 case, according to court records.