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Former La Jolla Music Society finance director pleads guilty to embezzlement

The La Jolla Music Society's Baker-Baum Concert Hall
Chris Benavides, former director of finance for the La Jolla Music Society, pleaded guilty Feb. 23 to embezzling more than $650,000. The photo shows the society’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Chris Benavides, former longtime director of finance for the La Jolla Music Society, pleaded guilty Feb. 23 in federal court to embezzling more than $650,000 over a decade.

Benavides, 52, was fired from his job at the Music Society about a year ago after officials there discovered more than $110,000 in losses. The society reported the losses to law enforcement, leading to Benavides’ criminal prosecution and guilty plea to one count of wire fraud.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Benavides is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, May 5.

“Benavides used the La Jolla Music Society’s money to pay his mortgage, credit cards and other personal expenses,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office. “He then concealed the payments by manipulating the company’s accounting records to make it appear that they were legitimate business expenses.”

An attorney for Benavides said he could not immediately provide a comment.

The embezzlement first came to light in February 2021, when the treasurer and finance committee chair alleged Benavides had used the organization’s money for personal mortgage and credit card payments, Music Society officials said at the time.

An official said Benavides told him he had accidentally used the society’s bank account to pay his personal mortgage for three months.

Benavides was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 20, 2021, and the society launched an internal investigation the same day. Within a week, Benavides was fired. ◆