A Loma Portal woman accused of stealing more than $3 million from a La Jolla nightclub/restaurant where she worked as bookkeeper pleaded not guilty Friday to grand theft and embezzlement charges.
Tara Virginia Moore, 39, faces more than 10 years in prison if convicted.
She was arrested Wednesday after police served a search warrant at her Plumosa Drive home, according to SDPD economic-crimes Lt. James Filley.
In her home, where she lives with her Navy-physician husband and her two young children, detectives seized more than $400,000 worth of antiques, furniture, paintings, exotic Italian silk curtains and other items allegedly bought with the embezzled funds, Filley said.
Most of the missing money remains unaccounted for, according to Filley.
Moore -- who filed for bankruptcy in 2009 -- was identified as a suspect in the case during a year-long investigation into the extensive monetary losses at Jack's La Jolla, a high-end restaurant-bar that closed two years ago "as a direct result of this theft," Filley said.
The alleged 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. The matter was then turned over to police, said Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell.
Moore worked for the Girard Avenue nightclub for about four years, beginning in 2005. The business closed in August 2009 and more than 100 employees lost their jobs, Mitchell said.
Moore's attorney, Paul Pfingst, said Moore was actually loaning some of her own money to help keep Jack's afloat.
The attorney said police only counted the money that came out of Jack's and were unaware of the millions of dollars lent to the business by Moore.
Pfingst said, "We have documents showing negotiations between Ms. Moore and Mr. Berkeley for Ms. Moore to take over the business in return for forgiving the loans she made to the business."
The defense attorney submitted a signed agreement between Berkley and Moore in which Berkley acknowledged that money paid to Moore in partial repayment of her loans was authorized.
Pfingst also submitted statements from witnesses at the business who said it was well-known that Moore was supporting Jack's from life insurance proceeds she received after her husband died. Pfingst said Moore lost more than $2 million of her own money.
"It's our contention that the money she was 'loaning' was actually money that she had misappropriated from Jack's in the first place," the prosecutor said. "From the accounts she would write herself checks, sign the owner/victim's name, and deposit the funds into her own personal account."
"This led to the defendant actually infusing the money she had stolen back into the business to keep it afloat and forestall the discovery of her crimes," added Mitchell.
Mitchell said Moore's relationship with Berkley dates back to the mid-1990s in other businesses that he was involved with and she was an employee.
She is also charged with embezzling money from a second business.
Judge David Szumowski reduced Moore's bail from $2.5 million to $400,000.
A bail review was set for Wednesday and a preliminary hearing for Oct. 3.
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