Tara Moore convicted of stealing millions from La Jolla restaurant, others

SAN DIEGO - A woman who embezzled several million dollars from the La Jolla restaurant where she worked as a bookkeeper and from her ex-mother-in-law, and fraudulently collected military spousal benefits, was convicted Monday of grand theft and forgery charges.

Tara Moore, who was convicted of eight felony counts and an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement, faces between 12 and 20 years in state prison when she is sentenced Sept. 2.

Moore, 42, was remanded into custody without bail as soon as the verdicts were read.

Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell said during the nine-week trial that Moore "took advantage of the trust that was placed in her" by business associates and others.

Mitchell said Moore would write checks to herself and deposit them in an investment company business account that was supposed to be closed, then transfer the money into her personal account. Losses totaled nearly $1 million, the prosecutor said.

The defendant presented herself as independently wealthy, Mitchell said.

"Lying, cheating and stealing became a way of life for the defendant," Mitchell told the jury.

Detectives in 2011 seized more than $400,000 worth of antiques, furniture, paintings, exotic Italian silk curtains from Moore's home -- items that police said were bought with embezzled funds.

Moore, who filed for bankruptcy in 2009, was identified as a suspect during a yearlong investigation into monetary losses at Jack's La Jolla, a high-end restaurant-bar that closed in 2009.

The fraud came to light when the owner of Jack's, Bill Berkley, hired a forensic accountant to examine the restaurant's financial records dating back to 2003, Mitchell said.

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said that Moore actually loaned some of her own money to Jack's to keep the business afloat, but Mitchell said that, too, was a ruse.

Mitchell said Moore lied to her former mother-in-law about a possible investment in a Rancho Bernardo property and stole $1.8 million from the older woman.

When one of Moore's husbands, a naval aviator, died, she failed to disclose that she had remarried and continued to collect $75,000 in military life insurance benefits, Mitchell said.

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