Embezzle case: Balch changes her plea to guilty
In front of six elderly victims in court Thursday, the wife of a former Nevada City mayor pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $100,000 from their homeowners association, of which she was treasurer.
Linda Balch’s victims and victim advocates lined the front row of the court’s gallery Thursday; her husband, Tom Balch, was not present.
Balch has put her Searls Avenue home up for sale and hopes to have sold it before her May 6 sentencing date to pay restitution, Balch’s attorney, Thomas Leupp, said.
A restitution amount has not been determined; however, Leupp said it would be “around $100,000, give or take $10,000.” He and District Attorney Cliff Newell would agree on an amount before the sentencing date, he added.
However, if Balch cannot come up with the money to pay restitution by her sentencing date, Newell will argue for jail time, said Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson, who was standing in Thursday for Newell.
“It really depends on what happens with restitution,” Ferguson said.
As part of a plea agreement reached Thursday between Newell and Leupp, Balch pleaded guilty to two charges of theft by embezzlement.
A third embezzlement charge and a charge of theft of an elder will be dismissed at sentencing, under the agreement.
As part of the deal, Balch will not go to prison, and if she is sentenced to any jail time, six months would be the maximum, Ferguson said. “The odds of a first-time offender going to prison in this county are slim to none,” she added.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger accepted the agreement Thursday, and noted that she will be able to consider the dropped charges when she sentences Balch in May.
Outside the courtroom Thursday, Balch’s victims said they are owed about $135,000, after attorneys’ fees and accounting fees. They worry Balch does not have the money to pay them back, they said.
“There is a discrepancy there,” Leupp responded. “We’re trying to arrive at the right number.”
In addition, Balch has taken out two mortgages on her home, which add up to about $350,000 in debt, said Uli Kaestner, secretary of the Woodbridge Townhomes Homeowners Association. He also is listed on the D.A.’s complaint as one of Balch’s victims.
“There’s no equity in her house,” Kaestner said.
Leupp said he cannot comment on any debt Balch may have incurred.
“She’s going to do anything she can to pay the money back,” Leupp said.
Ferguson told victims that Balch must have money somewhere, otherwise she would not be able to afford Leupp, she said.
Leupp charges $300 per hour, Leupp said. Private attorneys often charge anywhere from $250 to $350 per hour, he added.
The homeowners association has spent $20,000 on their investigation of the embezzlement, while Balch has spent less than a third of that amount for Leupp’s services, Leupp added.
“My attorney’s fees are not going to impair her ability to pay restitution,” Leupp said.
Some would like Balch to go to jail, while others simply want restitution, Kaestner said.
“There still has been no remorse from her,” Kaestner said. He and other homeowners suspect Balch spent the embezzled thousands on a new car and trips to Europe; Balch has been to Europe twice in the last year, Kaestner said.
Leupp would not comment on the alleged trips.
“(Balch) did spend $4,800 on a car,” Leupp said. Balch also said she spent some of the money to help a family member with health problems, he added.
However, police said the family member had insurance coverage, and did not need Balch’s help.
Association board members discovered the stolen money through an audit, association president Bill Hegarty said. They contacted their bank, Citizens Bank in Grass Valley, and bank staff notified police after a review of account records, he said.
After a two-week investigation, Grass Valley police arrested Balch Oct. 25, 2007. Her bail was set at $100,000, and she posted a $10,000 bond the same day of her arrest, according to court records.
Balch entered a plea of not guilty after she was charged, but changed her plea to guilty Thursday.
“(Balch) made admissions to police when she was first arrested,” Leupp said. “With virtually every case like this, you enter a not guilty plea until amounts can be determined and you reach a resolution.”
Balch is scheduled for sentencing at 9 a.m. May 6 in Nevada County Superior Court.
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4236.
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