In the Gila County Superior Courthouse in Payson Wednesday surrounded by the real estate professionals she once served former Payson resident Raven Burlando pleaded guilty to charges of theft and fraud.
In her plea agreement, signed before Judge Pro Tem Peter DiNinno and 40 of her former colleagues, the former executive officer of the Central Arizona Board of Realtors admitted that she stole $275,000 from the organization between January 1999 and December 1999.
"We had received word that she was going to sign the plea agreement, so it really wasn't a surprise," CABR President Jill Morgan said Thursday.
Burlando, who managed CABR's finances, was the sole suspect in the case. She resigned her position in the spring of 2000, at about the same time Payson Police detectives began investigating the reported thefts.
By the time detectives concluded their investigation, they found evidence that Burlando had stolen $275,000 from CABR, an independent organization that serves local real estate agents.
"People have asked why we didn't catch this sooner," Morgan said. "When you have an employee for 15 years, you feel like you can trust them. And she was giving us false statements, false documents ... We never had any reason to doubt her."
Morgan discovered that money was missing from CABR bank accounts in April 2000 after a supplier notified her that one of the organization's checks had bounced. When Morgan checked with the bank regarding the overdraft, she discovered that someone had been making large withdrawals.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Burlando pleaded guilty to theft and fraud and agreed to pay restitution not to exceed $275,000.
"I don't think we'll ever see any of that money, though," Morgan said. "Let's see, people in jail make 10 cents an hour. No. I don't think we'll ever see that money."
Judge Robert Duber is scheduled to sentence Burlando at 3:30 p.m. July 12 in Payson.
"According to the terms of the plea agreement, the judge could sentence her to probation, or up to 16.25 years in prison," Gila County Attorney Jim Hazel said. She also can be fined up to $150,000.
"Most of the people I've talked to feel that 16 years is appropriate," Morgan said, "and they would like to see that happen."