Man sentenced for embezzling Angora fire funds
PLACERVILLE – A former American Red Cross manager was sentenced Wednesday for stealing thousands of dollars meant for victims of Lake Tahoe’s Angora Fire.
John Hellman, 49, will do 16 months in state prison for embezzling $16,574 from a client-assistance program. He pleaded no contest Wednesday to three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement.
Speaking in court Wednesday, prosecutor Richard A. Jones told a judge that Hellman belongs in prison even though he has no prior criminal record.
“It’s one of the more onerous crimes we have seen in the sense that it was a pre-planned theft from victims of the fire. You have all the traumatic effects of the fire, and then you have him stealing money from Red Cross. It’s one of these reprehensible kinds of acts,” Jones said.
A CEO for the local chapter of the Red Cross also spoke at the hearing.
“John Hellman’s criminal actions have impacted three different groups. First and foremost, Mr. Hellman has committed a crime against the Tahoe/Angora fire victims. Financial assistance that was meant for clients to help them rebuild their lives after the devastating fire was diverted away from their needs and into John Hellman’s pocket.
“Second, Mr. Hellman has committed a crime against the altruistic donors who so generously gave money … And third, Mr. Hellman committed a crime against the American Red Cross … He besmirched the name, reputation and the mission of the American Red Cross by so deviously, and with malice aforethought, falsifying documentation and diverting (donations),” said Carole Evans, interim CEO for the Sacramento Sierra Chapter.
Red Cross gave cash cards to Angora fire victims, which could be used to purchase needed items in the aftermath of the fire. Hellman cashed eight of these cards himself, and falsified documents stating the cards went to fire victims, Evans said.
Those victims ultimately received the money they were entitled to, Evans said.
Hellman’s attorney David Cramer also spoke in court, saying, “Mr. Hellman was one of the most remorseful clients I’ve ever represented. He did admit to the incident very early after he was approached by law enforcement.”
After the hearing, Cramer told the Mountain Democrat, “Mr. Hellman is a very nice person. He’s not a criminal by any means. He made a bad decision.”
Cramer would not say why Hellman committed the crime.
But Jones, the prosecutor, said, “There was an indication he wanted to go back to Texas and needed money for that. The money was for his personal use, which I found particularly disturbing.”
Hellman was arrested by Texas authorities in August and extradited to El Dorado County.
The theft was initially uncovered in January during a records audit, Evans said.
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