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Woman who embezzled from State Bar
sentenced to prison

Sharon Pearl
Sharon Pearl

A former State Bar employee was sentenced to 32 months in state prison last month after she admitted embezzling more than $600,000 from the agency. Sharon Elyce Pearl, 52, pleaded no contest in December to one count of embezzlement and six counts of filing false tax returns.

She was ordered to make restitution to the bar, as well as pay taxes, penalties and other costs, totaling almost $900,000. Pearl already has paid almost $400,000 to the bar.

Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said Pearl “methodically embezzled” the funds to spend on spa treatments, designer clothes and other luxury items. “As the State Bar's Director of Real Property, Pearl methodically embezzled more than $600,000 to bankroll a lavish lifestyle,” Brown said.

Pearl was responsible for handling building management and she collected rent from tenants at the bar’s 180 Howard Street headquarters in San Francisco. As early as 2002, she began to embezzle a portion of the rental funds she collected, directing some tenants to make their rent checks payable to “PLOT — The State Bar of California.” PLOT stood for the Piedmont Light Opera Theatre, where Pearl was a signatory on the theater’s accounts. She deposited the checks into theater accounts and then transferred funds to her personal bank account.

When the bar uncovered Pearl’s scheme in 2008, it launched an internal investigation into financial discrepancies and ultimately discovered that Pearl was maintaining two sets of books. The investigation was referred to Brown’s Special Crimes Unit for prosecution.

As part of her sentence, she was ordered to pay $615,790 in restitution to the State Bar; 
$167,422 in staff, audit and attorney costs to the State Bar; and 
$116,652 in taxes, penalties, interest and investigation costs to the Franchise Tax Board.

The sentence, issued in Alameda County Superior Court, did not include federal taxes Pearl may owe.

When Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bar’s fee bill last October, he singled out the embezzlement as an example of what he called “a lack of internal controls.”