A three-year, four-month prison sentence was handed down Monday to Lizeth Guadalupe Ochoa, the former employee who pleaded guilty in May to two counts – grand theft and embezzlement from an employee, stemming from her theft of more than $500,000 from the La Mesa car dealership.
Ochoa, 35, adorned in a khaki-colored jail-issued jumpsuit, stood and heard her fate from Hon. Judge Eugenia Eyherabide in San Diego Downtown Courthouse, in front of about 10 family and friends, and about eight Drew Ford employees who once thought of her as "a member of the family."
Ochoa was arrested in January, released and then rearrested Feb. 22 after La Mesa police Detective Sean Snow presented evidence that she had taken $840,000 from the well-known business since 2003, records indicate.
Her attorney, Theodore Weathers, began to paint a picture of Ochoa as a troubled, depressed woman, who had suffered through many unfortunate circumstances that had "significant impacts on her that explains why she continued to take money."
Those circumstances began with her father being run down by a car in Mexico when she was only nine, and continued into adulthood, when she had a hard time conceiving a child. And though Weathers agreed that Ochoa was complicit in the crime, he said that she embezzled money, to "self-medicate herself with a feel-good sensation of spending some money, not to accumulate great wealth."
Ochoa became visibly emotional when listening to her attorney describe her trouble at getting pregnant, which she finally did in 2011.
When deputy district attorney John Cross was given time to respond, a simple statement seemed to resonate more with Judge Eyherabide than Weathers' rationale for his client.
"This woman stole $840,000, using a sophisticated scheme," Cross said. "And it went on for seven years."
Cross also cited information he read on the Center for Disease Control website. "The CDC says that 1 out of 10 people suffer from depression in this country. That's 10 percent. But 10 percent of people don't steal $840,000."
Cross went on to describe some of the things that Ochoa purchased with the money she stole, including designer clothes and handbags from Jimmy Choo, Dolce & Gabana, Aldo, Gucci and Louis Vitton, in addition to vacations and expensive dinners.
Three people, including her husband Marco Aguilar, spoke on Ochoa's behalf, asking the judge for leniency.
"I'm very sorry to the Drew family," he said. "You treated her like family and I thank you for that. I just ask the court for leniency. Her child wants to see her back home."
The prosecution then had three speakers from Drew Ford, including owner Bill Drew, address the judge.
"It's an understatement to say how the actions of Lizeth Ochoa have affected our employees," he said. "Her crime was one of greed."
Drew emphasized the length of time that Ochoa stole from his company, seemingly having no remorse, not even when she got married and had a child.
"She knew full well the jeopardy she was putting her husband in as well," he said. "When she became pregnant, she faced one of those crossroads, but she put her love of material goods over the welfare of her child."
Drew said that he was asking the judge to consider the full four-year sentence, "not out of any vengeance or hatred for Lizeth," but only that she have to take full responsibility for her actions.
Patty Larsen, who hired Ochoa at Drew Ford, described her as a part of her family, and how [Larsen] and other employees, went to her college graduation, to her wedding, and were in the hospital at the birth of her child.
"After she had the baby, she told me she was coming back," said Larsen. "Now, I'm convinced that she was coming back for more."
Carin Chambers, who worked closely with Ochoa for years as the office manager was one of the empoyees who ultimately discovered her embezzlement. She became very emotional as she spoke of how her and other Drew Ford employees' reputations have been tarnished by association. Ochoa's head dropped and her eyes were closed as her former colleagues spoke to the judge.
"When you consider the sentence, consider how she's changed how I see the world," said Chambers. "I now have to live fighting with a sense of distrust. She didn't just steal money, she tainted our souls."
Before hearing her sentence, Ochoa was given the change to address the court, and she took the opportunity to talk to her former colleagues.
"You did treat me like family, and I'm very sorry," Ochoa said. "I made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I'm sorry for the hurt I caused the Drew family. The time I've been away from my baby, I'll never get back. I waited so long for him and I can't be with him. It's like I never had him."
After hearing her sentence, Ochoa was remanded into custody.
Outside the courtroom, Bill Drew, gave only a short statement to La Mesa-Mount Helix Patch: "I'm very happy with the district attorney's office and the La Mesa Police Department for their work in this and I'm glad it's over."
Ochoa worked as a bookkeeper who collected cash and checks from various departments, “was well-liked by everyone at the dealership, and they had no concerns about her work,” Snow wrote in a memo supporting an arrest warrant.
But after she went on maternity leave in November 2011, an employee who did bank reconciliations “realized something was wrong with the accounts,” Snow wrote in February.
Candice Padilla, the fellow employee, discovered that several large deposits had never been made and reported this to Chambers.
Ochoa theft scheme consisted of “deposit lapping,” stealing the cash from one week’s deposit, altering the deposit slips and replacing the missing cash with checks from the next week’s deposit.