Judge rules trial needed in ‘The People versus Cindy Greatrex’ case — She’s accused of stealing more than $67,000 from La Jolla Recreation Center funds

After almost three days of testimony and cross examination in the preliminary hearing for “The People versus Cindy Greatrex,” San Diego Superior Court Judge Amalia L. Meza found on Nov. 30 that the people had met the burden of proof and further legal evaluation is necessary.

Judge Meza set the arraignment date for Dec. 13, on charges of felony grand theft by employee, and at that time, Greatrex will plead not guilty and a trial date will be set, her attorney Paul Neuharth said.

La Jolla resident and longtime community volunteer Greatrex is accused of making out company checks from La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. payable to herself or cash, and cashing them into her personal accounts. According to court documents, the total loss was $67,935.86.

Greatrex claims the funds were used to reimburse herself for purchasing grant-writing services and other items for the Rec Center that she paid “over a long period of time” on behalf of the Rec Center in her role as chair of the La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. board.

During days two and three of the preliminary hearing — and foreseeably at the trial — a key issue was determining the existence and legitimacy of the firm with which Greatrex entered into a contract and paid to write grants: American Field Consulting (AFC), and its representative Jon Freeman. AFC is reportedly based in Chicago.

Greatrex maintains she gave more than $40,000 in cash to Freeman for these services over the course of a year (the remaining funds she is accused of stealing were reimbursements to herself for miscellaneous payments she made for services to the Rec Center).

During his testimony, police investigator Bernie Piceno said of AFC that he “can’t find them to exist,” but also that he “can’t say 100 percent that they don’t exist” based on his research.

Further, Piceno said he Googled the company, and eventually came upon a website (when La Jolla Light did the same thing, the website came up right away). On the website, he said there was a “team” page with photos of employees, and he ran the images through a Google image search “to see if they were stock images” and found at least one was used on “numerous” websites that pertained to services not related to grant writing. Piceno said he made attempts to contact AFC at the phone number provided on the website, but got no response and found no corporate records with the Illinois Secretary of State.

During day three of testimony, Piceno said he believed a “legitimate” business to be one that has a website, phone number, employees (at least one) and ones that you can reach and talk to, and based on that, he said AFC and any documents from them were questionable.

The People’s next witness was US Postal Inspector Meng Tsai, who was asked by People’s attorney Chandelle Konstanzer to check the validity of the address listed for AFC. Tsai testified that the address listed for AFC had a shipping and mailing services company operating there. However, Tsai said he did not investigate whether the shipping company was the only tenant in the building.

The Defense’s first witness was La Jollan Steve Haskins, who, as a business attorney and fellow community volunteer, was asked to assist in locating Freeman and obtaining business records. Freeman, himself, was not at the hearing, but Haskins testified that Freeman submitted documents for Haskins to present at the hearing with a digital signature. However, these documents were deemed inadmissible because they could not be independently verified.

When Greatrex took the stand, she said she met with Freeman in person “eight or nine times” throughout 2016 at the Rec Center to go over the grants needed and AFC’s progress. At each of these meetings, Greatrex paid in cash a portion of what would become more than $40,000. She said she took the money from her own account and reimbursed herself with La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. funds.

While Greatrex produced pages and pages of documentation of these meetings, because they came from AFC, their validity was questioned.

By paying in cash, Greatrex said, she received a reduced rate. She joked that it would have been easier for her had AFC accepted checks, and she generally preferred to work with local vendors. She said she chose to work with AFC because it was La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. president (then-vice president) Mary Coakley-Munk who referred her to AFC.

“Mary gave me the phone number and set me up with them,” Greatrex testified. However, Coakley-Munk testified during the first day of the hearing that she unsuccessfully attempted to contact AFC and could not verify that AFC existed.

When asked whether she thought it was “odd” to pay so much in cash, Greatrex said she didn’t know how much the total amount could be, and that the relationship could have ended “on day one” as far as she could predict.

“It may seem like a lot of money, but when you look at the millions of dollars available on the other end of grants, it isn’t,” Greatrex said.

As to why she didn’t take the funds directly from the La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. bank account for the grant-writing fees, Greatrex said she was often closer to her personal bank and “never thought I’d be in court two years later explaining this.”

Konstanzer also asked if the board formally voted to approve paying for AFC to write these grants (Coakley-Munk testified that the board had not taken such a vote), to which Greatrex said they discussed grant writing, but she could not recall whether she named AFC or whether the board knew she was paying them.

All said, the Judge ruled there was enough evidence to proceed to trial. After the decision was rendered, Greatrex’s attorney Neuharth explained that he would issue an out-of-state subpoena for Freeman to appear in person to validate AFC’s existence, and was “hopeful yet fearful” about it. A trial date will be set at the Dec. 13 arraignment.