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Fil-Am faces 25 years in jail for embezzling over $320,000 in US

OAKLAND, Calif. – A former paralegal faces up to 25 years in prison after admitting she bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients of an East Bay attorney, federal authorities said.
Ana Lissa Reyes, 42, of San Lorenzo could receive a lengthy term during her sentencing in federal court Oct. 10 after recently pleading guilty to one count each of mail fraud and tax evasion, authorities said.
Reyes admitted to embezzling $327,795 from personal-injury attorney Brian Ching and his clients, authorities said.
Her actions ultimately led to Ching’s losing his law practice last year. The State Bar found Ching to have been grossly negligent in supervising Reyes.
“This whole thing is a tragedy, a disappointment,” Berkeley-based attorney Keith Brooks, who represented Ching in disbarment proceedings, told Philippine News. “It’s a shock she was so blatant in her victimization of people.”
Reyes – who worked as Ching’s secretary, office manager and paralegal for more than 15 years – settled claims without the knowledge of her employer or his clients and pocketed the settlement proceeds, authorities said. She also engaged clients without Ching’s knowledge and stole their retainer fee payments.
Reyes took advantage of Ching when he was experiencing personal upheavals and not focused on his practice, Brooks said. Ching was going through marital issues and the deaths of his father and teenage son.
Ching was disbarred for misappropriating his clients’ funds even though the money had actually been stolen by Reyes, an FBI agent said in a sworn affidavit. Reyes stole more money from the client trust account of Ching’s firm.
Clients started to complain to Ching about missing funds in 2009, the agent said, but Reyes denied doing anything wrong.
But more complaints surfaced later, the agent said, and the State Bar opened an investigation. In 2011, Ching finally fired Reyes.
Then in text messages, Reyes apologized to Ching for her actions, the agent said. In part, she told Ching: “I am sorry for causing you and your family pain. I am going to try hard and figure out how I’m going to pay you back.”
But even then, Reyes continued to get hold of Ching’s clients and take their money, the agent said. Authorities arrested Reyes in 2012 after a year-long investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.
Brooks had also confronted Reyes about her activities, he said, but she couldn’t stop what she was doing.
Victims, however, apparently are beginning to get some of their money back through claims. “The State Bar is starting to reimburse people she exploited,” Brooks said.
Reyes is currently out on $100,000 bond. A message to her cell phone seeking comment was not immediately returned.                                                       
Her attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Ned Smock, was on vacation and not immediately available for comment. Federal Public Defender Steven Kalar declined comment.
Reyes also admitted to under-reporting her income from 2006 to 2011 during the time she embezzled her victims, authorities said. For each of these tax years, she knew her joint taxable income was substantially in excess of the amount stated on the return, resulting in additional tax owed to the federal government.
The maximum penalty for each count of mail fraud is 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 plus restitution, authorities said. The maximum for tax evasion is five years and $250,000 plus restitution. - Philippine News