Belinda Exon, Surf City Escrow Chief, Gets 3 Years for Stealing $4 Mil in Poor-Housing Funds
Blame Belinda Exon. The president of Rehab Financial Services, Inc., a now-defunct Huntington Beach company that held grant money and loan proceeds in escrow for municipalities, just got more than 3 years in federal prison for embezzling nearly $4 million from 21 California cities, including Seal Beach, Westminster, Buena Park, Fullerton and San Juan Capistrano.
Besides ordering the 56-year-old Phoenix, Arizona, resident to surrender to federal prison authorities by June 3, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II on Monday ordered her to pay $3,885,247 in restitution to two dozen municipalities.
Between 2002 and 2008, Exon spent $3.9 million held in escrow by Rehab Financial on vacant land and residential properties in the Arizona cities of Phoenix, Maricopa, Kingman, Chandler and Glendale. She also parlayed about a half million dollars that didn't belong to her to launch landscaping and pool service businesses, including Arizona Pool & Spa in Chandler.
Exon pleaded guilty last May in Wright's Los Angeles courtroom to one count of embezzling money from organizations that receive federal funds. As part of her plea deal, she agreed to forfeit the properties she purchased with ill-gotten funds and to make full restitution to the municipalities she burned.
Most funds directed to Rehab Financial escrow accounts originated from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income housing. The City and County of San Francisco, Exon's biggest mark, lost $1,106,035, which prevented the city from rectifying unhealthy living standards for several poor residents.
San Francisco's Lead and Housing Rehabilitation Programs manager testified that, "as a direct result of Ms. Exon's embezzlement, many low-income residents continue to be forced to live in substandard conditions that threaten their health, most notably children under the age of six who are most susceptible to the effects of lead paint exposure."
Judge Wright concluded Exon's conduct "had a real and tangible effect on a population that we, as a society, are attempting to reach out to and help. People will be living in less habitable dwellings-even dangerous dwellings" due to the embezzlement.
The Orange County cities (and amount of losses) determined by the judge were: Seal Beach ($478,500); Westminster ($223,392); Buena Park ($162,563); Fullerton ($66,453); and San Juan Capistrano ($2,055).
Besides San Francisco, other California municipalities stung by Exon included: Pomona ($751,000); Huntington Park ($478,000); Rosemead ($128,328); Montebello ($125,000); Apple Valley ($95,452); Camarillo ($91,975); Perris ($66,000); Bellflower ($59,140); Calimesa ($45,000); Santa Cruz ($34,784); Encinitas ($29,524); Santa Monica ($26,029); Hollister ($22,195); West Covina ($10,000); Rialto ($8,791); South Gate ($7,603); Housing Authority of the County of Marin ($5,259); and Hemet ($3,000).
How about some fresh coats of lead paint in Exon's new prison cell?