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Ex-La Jolla Music Society finance director pleads guilty to embezzlement

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Courtesy of La Jolla Music Society
The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center is shown in an undated photo.

The former director of finance for the La Jolla Music Society pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling more than $650,000 from the company over the course of nearly a decade.

Chris Benavides, 52, entered his plea Wednesday to a federal wire fraud count for stealing from the nonprofit between October 2011 and February 2021.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Benavides used the stolen funds to pay his mortgage, credit cards and other personal expenses.

Prosecutors say he issued unauthorized checks to himself, then altered the company's accounting records to make the payments appear to be for legitimate business expenses.

Benavides was fired by the La Jolla Music Society last February and the company reported the embezzlement to police. He's slated to be sentenced in May.

"The defendant spent nearly a decade abusing his trusted employment access to embezzle more than $650,000 from the La Jolla Music Society, where he most recently served as the director of finance," FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner said.

"Crimes such as this can have a devastating impact on both the employer and the local community, and further shake the confidence of the donors whose charitable contributions provide critical support for non-profit organizations. I hope this guilty plea provides a sense of closure and justice for the victims," Turner added.