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Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

Santa Clarita Valley Woman Sentenced for Defrauding Employer of Diversity Recruitment Money

A 45-year-old Santa Clarita Valley woman was sentenced on Friday to more than four years in federal prison for her role in defrauding her then-employer out of more than $1.7 million earmarked for diversity recruitment.

Judith Fernandez-Adelugba, of Stevenson Ranch, was a former human resources manager at a Santa Clarita race car design and development firm identified in court documents as Company-1.

In that position, she was responsible for diversity recruitment, which included implementing and managing programs to encourage people of diverse backgrounds to apply for jobs with her employer. She also had the authority to approve the invoices of up to $25,000, a release from the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Fernandez-Adelugba pleaded guilty in August of last year to one count of wire fraud. In addition to a 51-month prison sentence, U.S District Judge John Walter also ordered her to pay $1.7 million in restitution.

To assist her in the scheme, Fernandez-Adelugba recruited her father, George Fernandez, 75, of Stevenson Ranch, and Alex Lawrence Wilkison, 49, of Canyon Country, who was married to Fernandez-Adelugba’s work colleague at Company-1. George Fernandez was the president and CEO of the Stevenson Ranch-based company, Business Solutions Services (BSS). Wilkison was the registered owner of Engineering Talent Connect (ETC), a fictitious business name registered to an address in Mission Hills.

From March 2015 until her resignation from Company-1 in February 2018, Fernandez-Adelugba, her father and Wilkison used BSS and ETC to embezzle Company-1 funds – money they used for their own personal enrichment, the release said.

Participants in the scheme submitted to Company-1 fake invoices issued by BSS and ETC that requested payment for diversity recruitment-related services purportedly performed. Fernandez-Adelugba approved the fake invoices for payment, delivered them to Company-1’s accounting department and followed up to request and facilitate payment of the fake invoices, the release continued.

“After Company-1 issued payments on the fake invoices, Fernandez-Adelugba and her co-schemers used their illicit gains for personal expenditures such as trips to Las Vegas, credit card bills and dining at restaurants,” the release added.

Wilkison pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of wire fraud and is serving a six-month federal prison sentence. Judge Walter ordered Wilkison to pay $183,600 in restitution, according to the release.

George Fernandez had agreed to pay $103,140 in restitution to Company-1 as part of a pretrial diversion agreement with federal prosecutors. Superseding information filed in September 2021 charged Fernandez with misprision of a felony for failing to report his daughter’s act of wire fraud in March 2018 despite knowing of her criminal conduct, the release said.

“Company-1 suffered more than just that feeling of betrayal,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum, according to the release. “[Fernandez-Adelugba’s] embezzlement of funds earmarked for diversity recruitment caused Company-1 to fall behind its diversity recruiting goals. Because of [Fernandez-Adelugba’s] greed and selfishness, many worthy diverse engineers may have been denied potential careers at Company-1.”

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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