Crime

Palm Desert accountant who embezzled $500K pleads guilty

PALM DESERT, Calif. - An accountant who embezzled roughly a half-million dollars from her Palm Desert employer pleaded guilty today to grand theft and other charges.

Traci L. Kunz, 45, admitted the theft count, as well as a forgery charge and a sentence-enhancing allegation of perpetrating multiple fraudulent transactions, just as a preliminary hearing to determine if her case should go to trial was set to begin at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.

Kunz made her plea directly to Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins, without input from the District Attorney's Office.   

Hawkins scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 20. The defendant remains free on a $10,000 bond.

According to an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant filed by sheriff's Investigator Thomas Hendry, Kunz embezzled the money over a three-year span, beginning in June 2013, while employed as a bookkeeper for Swanson Interiors on Charles Place.

The defendant worked at the luxury interior decorations business for over 20 years by the time she was fired in 2016, according to court papers.   

The owner, Kim Swanson, detected the fraudulent activity while examining the books in May of that year, Hendry wrote.   

He said the stolen funds initially appeared to total just under $230,000, but further inquiries, with the help of investigators, revealed the amount was nearly double that sum.

Hendry said when Kunz realized her scheme had been uncovered, she attempted to pay back her employer, making good on $192,000.

The defendant tried to fix most of the blame on her former boyfriend, identified only as "T.G.,'' whom authorities could never track down, according to the affidavit.

Hendry said Kunz used the company credit card to deposit funds into hers and T.G.'s Paypal and Square accounts. The money would then be routed to the defendant's bank account, sometimes by means of checks written by T.G. 

"I found that Tracy Kunz prepared purchase orders for Swanson Interiors ... for all of the Square and PayPal transactions in an attempt to make the transactions look legitimate,'' Hendry wrote.

According to the affidavit, in a few instances, Kunz diverted customers' payments directly into her personal Wells Fargo bank account. She was able to cover her tracks, for a while, by partially replenishing the company accounts with money from customers who had contracted with Swanson 
Interiors for ongoing projects.

Hendry said both Swanson Interiors and its insurer were victimized.   No charges were filed against T.G.   

Kunz had no documented prior felony convictions.


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