Ex-treasurer pleads guilty in Pop Warner theft

Posted at 10:25 AM, Apr 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-07 22:06:13-04

SAN DIEGO -- A former treasurer for Vista Pop Warner Football and Cheer pleaded guilty Thursday to five felony counts, including grand theft and identity theft, for embezzling more than $100,000 from the organization's accounts.

As part of the plea deal, Rachel Marie Owens, 41, agreed to pay back the $114,395 she stole from the league her son played in.  

Deputy District Attorney Anna Winn said $101,000 of that money was embezzled by Owens through league checks.  The remaining money was cash from league fundraisers. Winn said Owens deposited the cash directly into her own bank account. 
During the execution of a search warrant at Owens' house, Winn said investigators searched for assets that they could sell and return the funds to the league.  "Unfortunately there weren't any assets there. That money was just spent on daily living," the prosecutor said.
Owens' attorney claimed his client was ashamed and remorseful.  Peter Liss said she was ready to be held accountable,
Liss told Team 10 Owens stole the money because she was financially "in over her head".  He cited the high cost of living in San Diego County, but said that's no excuse for what she did.
“At first she thought she would just write a few checks and stop," said Liss.  "She also thought she would be caught right away and she wasn’t, so she kept doing it with the thought that she would eventually repay the money."   Liss said at some point it became too much.
Under the plea agreement Owens must spend 365 days in jail .  She will get credit for time served.

She was arrested in late February at the Guajome Park Academy in Vista, a charter school where she teaches math.

Owens was the treasurer for the Pop Warner Football and Cheer between October 2013 and November 2015. The sheriff’s department Cyber Financial Crimes Unit began investigating accusations of theft in November 2015.

In early January, several parents with Vista Pop Warner approached Team 10 claiming that thousands of dollars they had raised for expenses were gone.

Owens' attorney said his client acknowledge that she made a terrible mistake. Her attorney said Owens took the money because it is expensive to live in California.

According to Owens, all the money is gone.

Ken Elliot, a lawyer who also coaches a team in the league, told Team 10 that the incident began when vendors started calling board members asking why they weren't being paid for services. As the board began to investigate, they discovered thousands of dollars were missing and checks were bouncing.

RELATED: Team 10: Vista Pop Warner executives may have made it easy for someone to empty bank accounts

Before getting law enforcement involved, Elliott drafted a letter to Owens, whom he suspected of using the funds for personal gain. At the time, Team 10 chose not to identify Owens because she had not been charged with a crime.

The letter demanded the money be returned, as well as any receipts and banking records. Elliott gave Team 10 a copy of the letter. Elliott claims Owens denied taking any money. She said she didn't have any records.

Team 10 was shown several of the checks, totaling $93,700, that were written as "reimbursements" to that same board member. One of them, for $5,000, was written two days before Christmas.

RELATED: Former Vista Pop Warner treasurer arrested in $100K theft

When Team 10 contacted Owens in early February, she called the claims "a witch hunt" and said in a series of emails that she had done nothing wrong. She told Team 10 that executive board members within the Vista Pop Warner organization "overspent."

After Owens changed her plea, her  attorney said those comments were a fabrication. "She knew everything was coming apart and she didn't know what to do."
Parents of Vista Pop Warner players are expected to make impact statements at Owens' formal sentencing May 10.