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Brown Announces Former State Bar Employee Will Spend 2 Years, 8 Months in Prison for Embezzlement and Tax Fraud

Friday, February 5, 2010
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Oakland—Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that Sharon Elyce Pearl, 52, of Oakland, the former Director of Real Property for the State Bar of California, has been sentenced to two years and eight months in prison after she “methodically embezzled” more than $600,000 from her employer to spend on spa treatments, designer clothes and other luxury items.

“As the State Bar’s Director of Real Property, Pearl methodically embezzled more than $600,000 to bankroll a lavish lifestyle,” Brown said. “Under today’s sentence, Pearl will spend the next two years and eight months in prison and will be required to repay the State Bar and the State of California in full.”

In April 2009, Brown filed seven criminal charges against Pearl in Alameda County Superior Court, including:

• One criminal count of embezzlement for violating section 504 of the state Penal Code.
• Six counts of filing false tax returns for violating section 19706 of the state Revenue and Taxation Code.

Pearl pleaded no contest to all charges in December 2009.

As part of today’s sentence, Pearl was ordered to pay:

• $615,790 in restitution to the State Bar;
• $167,422 in staff, audit and attorney costs to the State Bar; and
• $116,652 in taxes, penalties, interest and investigation costs to the Franchise Tax Board.

Pearl has already paid $393,212 of the $615,790 owed to the State Bar in restitution.

In 1999, the State Bar purchased an office building at 180 Howard Street in San Francisco for its headquarters. The State Bar inherited tenants who leased retail space in the building. As the Director of Real Property, Pearl handled building management and collected rent from the building’s tenants.

As early as 2002, Pearl began to embezzle a portion of the rental funds she collected. As part of her scheme, Pearl directed some tenants to make their rent checks payable to “PLOT—The State Bar of California.” Unknown to the renters, “PLOT” stood for the Piedmont Light Opera Theatre.

Pearl deposited the checks into accounts held by the Piedmont Light Opera Theatre. Because she was a signatory on the theater's accounts, she could then transfer funds from the theater accounts to her personal bank account.

Pearl used the embezzled funds to pay for spa treatments, designer clothes, lavish meals and fancy hotel rooms. Because the State Bar did not track its rent payments, Pearl was able to continue her scheme for several years.

In 2008, the State Bar finally uncovered Pearl’s scheme when she requested a check for what she claimed was a tenant’s security deposit refund. Because there were no records that the tenant had ever paid a security deposit, the State Bar launched an internal investigation into the financial discrepancies.

The State Bar ultimately discovered that Pearl was maintaining two sets of books, and the investigation was referred to Brown’s Special Crimes Unit for prosecution.

The State Bar was created by the Legislature in 1927 and is a public corporation within the judicial branch of government, serving as an arm of the California Supreme Court. It admits attorneys for practice in the state, provides continuing education classes and conducts disciplinary hearings.

Copies of the original complaint and arrest warrant declaration are attached.

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