Greatrex to stand trial for alleged theft of La Jolla Park & Recreation funds
by NEAL PUTNAM
Published - 12/01/17 - 08:59 AM | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A judge on Nov. 30 ordered Cindy Greatrex to stand trial for grand theft involving the loss of $67,935 while she was president of the nonprofit La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. board.

Greatrex, 51, testified for about five hours over two days before San Diego Superior Court Judge Amalia Meza, in a preliminary hearing that lasted three days.

She said she paid various board vendors cash from her own bank account. She said most vendors who provided supplies or services such as face painting at events for children wanted to be paid in cash. Greatrex also said she paid people out of her own money to write grant documents and then wrote checks to herself for reimbursement.

"You do need cash on hand to pay vendors," said Greatrex. "I paid myself back."

Greatrex has pleaded not guilty and a trial date will be set on Dec. 13. She remains free on $70,000 bond.

She testified she became board president in May 2016, and she resigned in February after board members conferred about some discrepancies in the books.

Greatrex was eager to tell her side of the story in court even though it is unusual for a defendant to testify in a preliminary hearing. Her attorney, Paul Neuharth Jr., had hoped this would persuade the judge not to order a trial.

"I thought we had a chance it would be dismissed today," said Neuharth afterwards.

Meza didn't comment about Greatrex's testimony, but said Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Konstanzer had met the prosecution's burden of proof and a trial was necessary.

Greatrex often gave long answers and spoke in a rapid style that caused the court reporter and the judge to tell her repeatedly to slow down so a record could be taken of what was said.

She told reporters afterwards she didn't regret testifying even though it took a long time. 

One issue at trial will be to determine whether a Chicago firm, American Field Consulting, actually exists. Its address is a post office box, and one court document showed a Greatrex phone number associated with the firm.

Greatrex paid them approximately $40,000 in grant writing services. The firm's only employee, Jon Freeman, couldn't be located by the prosecution, though Neuharth produced a declaration signed by Freeman that said he did perform grant writing services for Greatrex.

Meza declined to accept the Freeman declaration because Freeman didn't show up to testify. Neuharth presented attorney Steven Haskins who testified he spoke with Freeman, whom he said gave him business records about the company. Haskins previously served on the La Jolla Town Council.

Meng Gsai, a federal postal inspector, told the prosecutor he spoke with a manager of the building who said there was no one by the name of Freeman who got mail there.

According to Greatrex, Freeman did come to San Diego and toured the La Jolla Park & Recreation Center numerous times. She paid him cash on these visits, she said.

Neuharth asked Greatrex about each check and cash withdrawal she made. Greatrex recalled she reimbursed vendors for sound equipment, balloon supplies, Christmas items, and carnival expenses that had to be paid. She said she hired a construction company for $5,000 to erect a Christmas tree and to take it down in 2016.

She could not remember the names of some of the vendors. Greatrex said receipts with the vendors' names were filed in board records, but some of those receipts did not turn up in a search, said Tyler Canales, a city area manager who oversees three recreation centers.

"It was a very disorganized bunch of receipts," said Canales. "We did a pretty thorough search."

Canales said officials determined there were $27,723.12 in expenses that were paid but lacked receipts or invoices from vendors. Canales also said there were $44,362 in cash withdrawals in which there were no invoices or receipts. He said no invoices from the Chicago company were ever found.

Greatrex said she paid the board's second insurance policy and could not recall the name of the firm. However, Canales said the center had only one insurance policy and the board paid it.

Greatrex said she received an email from current president Mary Coakley Munk, who accused her of "borrowing" board money. Greatrex said she never borrowed any funds, but was merely paying herself back after spending her own money to pay grant writers.

Greatrex testified she often works 60 hours a week as an associate medical officer in cancer research. 

The prosecutor showed Greatrex a copy of the board's bylaws, which said all checks must be signed by two board members. Most of the checks written by Greatrex only had her signature.

"These are bylaws I have not seen before, not the ones I had as president," said Greatrex. 

 When shown they were enacted in February 2016, Greatrex said, "it's impossible" because she recalled forming a bylaw committee to study revising bylaws. 

Greatrex was asked about a patent number she had on her website that she said came from her developing a hearing aid product in 2002. Konstanzer said the patent number showed it came from a 1935 invention in the post office that processed envelopes. Greatrex said she must have made a typo in the number.

She described herself as a chief "earing" officer for a company that supplies information on a hearing aid product. She spelling the name as "earing" with only one “r” so it won't be confused with earrings. She said it was "a joke title" she gave herself.

San Diego Police Detective Bernie Piceno returned to the stand as a rebuttal witness. Piceno said he researched Greatrex's academic degrees she mentioned on her "Linked-In" account and her own website. He said she did not graduate from two different universities she listed, although she was a student at one of them.

Neuharth questioned Piceno if his search included Greatrex's maiden name, and Piceno said he did not know her maiden name. 

Piceno said he was alerted by Munn and others about suspicious cash withdrawals and checks by Greatrex and began an investigation. Piceno said bank cameras showed Greatrex was the sole person who made withdrawals from the board account.

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