By Kelly Wheeler
City News Service
A former bookkeeper already accused of stealing more than $3 million from a La Jolla restaurant pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that she embezzled $1.8 million from her mother-in-law in a fraudulent loan scam.
Tara Virginia Moore, 39, was arrested last Thursday. The mother of two had been out of custody after posting $400,000 bail on charges she stole from her former employer, Jack's La Jolla, a high-end restaurant-bar that closed two years ago.
Moore was charged Monday with financial elder abuse, grand theft and forgery and was ordered held on $100,000 bail.
Outside the courtroom, Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell said Moore was not a "victim'' in the case, as claimed by defense attorney Paul Pfingst. "She's not the victim in this case. She's pretty much a parasite,'' the prosecutor said.
Mitchell said Moore married her fourth husband, Bobby Markovich, in October 2005. Markovich trusted Moore with his finances, and over time, Moore learned Markovich's mother had well over $1 million in a retirement account, the prosecutor said.
Moore contacted her mother-in-law and said that she was a partner in a 10-acre property being developed in Rancho Bernardo that would bring in $20 million to $34 million in profits when completed, according to the prosecution.
The defendant said she was responsible for the licensing and permitting on the property, and over a two-year period, asked for $1.8 million from Dragica "Dorothy'' Markovich, cleaning out her mother-in-law's retirement nest egg, Mitchell alleged.
The theft left Dorothy Markovich — now 77 and in failing health — almost penniless, according to the prosecutor.
Moore — who filed for bankruptcy in 2009 — tried to convince her mother-in-law not to attend the bankruptcy hearing, telling the victim that the property — which was fictitious — could be sold and Moore could pay her back, Mitchell alleged.
The defendant also allegedly forged a signature on a document declaring she owned a property in La Jolla with promises to repay Dorothy Markovich $700,000, the prosecutor said.
Moore is also under investigation for allegedly illegally collecting spousal support after her third husband died, Mitchell said.
Pfingst said the loans from Moore's mother-in-law were taken out with Moore's husband and were approved and being paid back.
"In fact, we have said all along that Tara Moore asked her mother-in-law to loan money to put into Jack's, and the money was lost,'' Pfingst said Monday.
Moore's alleged fraud against Jack's came to light when the restaurant's owner, Bill Berkley, hired a forensic accountant to examine the eatery's financial records dating back to 2003, Mitchell said at an earlier hearing.
Moore worked for the Girard Avenue nightclub for about four years, beginning in 2005. The business closed in August 2009 and more than 100 employees lost their jobs, Mitchell said.
Pfingst said Moore was actually loaning some of her own money to help keep Jack's afloat.
The attorney said there was a signed agreement between Berkley and Moore in which Berkley acknowledged that money paid to Moore in partial repayment of her loans was authorized.
Mitchell said additional charges are expected in the original case against Moore. If convicted in that case, she could face up to 20 years in prison, the prosecutor said. Moore faces 12 years behind bars if found guilty of charges in the case involving Dorothy Markovich, the prosecutor said.
Moore will be back in court Dec. 6 for a preliminary hearing on the charges involving Jack's.