Woman sentenced to maximum prison time in $300K Los Banos restaurant embezzlement case

On August 17, 2022 by Allen D. Payton

Robin Ruth Ann Recla AKA Robin Berard. Source: Merced County District Attorney

During Wednesday hearing at Los Banos Courthouse; Robin Ruth Recla swindled six local, prominent residents who invested

“Ms. Recla is a con artist, plain and simple who should be committed to state prison for her crimes,” Deputy D.A. Colby

Victims “relieved that it’s over”, praise prosecutor, police and judge; main victim knew her for 30 years

After entering no contest pleas to embezzlement and filing a false tax return on May 25, 2022, in the case of the Los Banos restaurant scheme, Robin Ruth Ann Recla, aka Robin Berard, appeared in front of Merced County Superior Court Judge David W. Moranda on August 17, 2022, for sentencing in the Los Banos Courthouse. Following requests by both the prosecution and her victims, Recla was sentenced to the maximum available to the District Attorney under current law of two years, eight months in state prison.

The Merced County District Attorney’s office announced on May 25, 2022, Ms. Recla admitted to swindling approximately $300,000 from six prominent Los Banos investors. She also failed to claim the profits on her income tax return.

In 2018, the group of investors pooled their funds and created an L.L.C. with the intent of creating and opening a restaurant in the Los Banos area. Ms. Recla was selected to manage and direct the project, but investors learned there were problems when they were notified by their bank that the business accounts were overdrawn

An investigative team comprised of an investigator from the state Franchise Tax Board Criminal Investigation Bureau, Commander Justin Melden with the Los Banos Police Department, and Merced County D.A. Investigator Moses Nelson worked diligently to trace the financial transactions exposing Ms. Recla’s behavior. The coordinated, year-long investigation uncovered Ms. Recla’s personal use of nearly all of the funds, including $159,273 in checks written to herself and her withdrawal of $24,900 in cash from automated teller machines. The investigators determined Ms. Recla also used the investors’ funds for personal travel and the purchase of personal items like furniture.

In the past, embezzled amounts as high as the amount involved in this case would have resulted in a larger prison sentence. However, changes in the law now mean the longest possible sentence Ms. Recla faces is two years and eight months in prison. Also, with the passage of AB 109, known as realignment, Ms. Recla’s sentence in most cases would result in a Penal Code, Section 1170(h) local prison sentence.

Local prison sentences in Merced County are in nearly all cases served on the Sheriff’s Supervised Release Program, referred to commonly as ankle monitor. However, because investigators and the Merced County D.A.’s Office appropriately pursued and prosecuted the acts of tax evasion, any prison sentence issued in this case must be served in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Ms. Recla’s no contest plea was not the product of a negotiated plea, and she entered an open plea to the charges, meaning that the court has all options available up to the maximum allowable by law. 

At the sentencing hearing, attorneys for both sides presented arguments to Judge Moranda advocating for a sentence they believe to be in the interest of justice. Deputy D.A. Travis Colby is handling this case for the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

According to the prosecution brief by Colby, “Ms. Recla has a history of fraud and deceit dating back to 1998 when she was convicted of fraud to obtain aid. She was convicted of felony grand theft in Pocatello, Idaho District Court in 2010, and in 2011 she was convicted of felony grand theft for stealing $35,000 from a former employer, Advanced Professionals – an insurance agency in San Jose. She was also accused of embezzling $70,000 from a restaurant in Los Altos between 2015 and 2017 before taking charge in this scheme to defraud people in Los Banos,” who are prominent and local but chose to not be identified for this report.

“Ms. Recla is a con artist, plain and simple who should be committed to state prison for her crimes,” Colby continued. “She is presumptively ineligible for probation. But even if probation did apply, probation is not appropriate for her under any reasonable analysis.”

Recla asked for leniency from the court for medical reasons including her mental health and her husband’s physical health and expressed regret and sorrow without showing mercy for the Los Banos’ investors who lost up to $300,000 collectively and requested the court to reduce her charges of two felony counts to probation. 

Judge Moranda agreed with the prosecution noting her crimes “started small and worked their way up.” The judge further stated, “I don’t see the remorse. I don’t see that she is sorry.”

He then sentenced Recla to two years for felony embezzlement and eight months for filing a false tax return to run concurrently in state prison, the maximum under law. Since there was no credit for time served, and showing no mercy for her victims, she was handcuffed and taken away to immediately begin serving her sentence.

Victims “Relieved That It’s Over”, Praise Prosecutor, Police and Judge

Asked how she was feeling, Sandie Silva, one of the victims said, “I’m feeling, I guess, relieved that it’s over. I feel that justice has been done and I feel that our district attorney and detectives, Melden from Los Banos and Moses from the District Attorney’s Office. And Travis Colby was amazing.”

Cheryl Silva, Sandie’s sister-in-law, and her husband Anthony were also victims in the restaurant investment embezzlement scheme.

“I’m elated that the judge listened to our victim’s impact statements,” Cheryl exclaimed. “I believe he responded to us through the sentencing. He listened to how we’re really feeling. This is not Robin Recla’s first felony offense and the judge responded to that saying, this is a pattern with Robin. For me that was very reassuring. We did not feel as though, in her statements she did apologize, but we did not feel it was sincere. She had many opportunities over the past four years to do what was right but chose not to. I’m elated that justice was served. It was not vindicative on our part. We were seeking justice.”

Asked how they met Recla, Cheryl responded, “she was very close to Sandie to the point she called her mom. She garnered our trust through that relationship and that’s how all of this came about.

Asked when they first met, Cheryl said, “Sandie met her 30 years ago.”

“I’m in real estate and I had a business with my ex-husband and Robin was actually our ad sales rep for the Los Banos Enterprise,” Sandie said. “I actually also owned a house-cleaning service and cleaned her parents’ house and helped her get the job at the Enterprise.”

“She befriended me, she could sell yellow snow to an Eskimo,” Sandie continued. “Robin babysat my kids, and I kept her son, too.”

“Then we lost touch for years and then she found me on Facebook in 2009. She was living in the San Jose area at the time and bought me flowers one year, and the card said, ‘Happy Birthday, Mom’. I thought, ‘awww. She just wants someone to love her.’ She catered my daughter’s best friend’s husband’s funeral reception and she told everyone that I was her mom and that my kids were her brother and sister.”

“That was around Easter time, I asked her what they were doing, she said they were going to be alone, so, I invited her to our house,” Sandie shared. “Because she was spending so much money on rent, I said she needed to come back Los Banos, save money and buy a house. She and her kids stayed with us less than a month, while a house was getting ready for them to move into.”

“Robin was working at a restaurant in the Bay Area – she was charged over there, too,” Sandie said. “I was paying their bills for her. I told her, ‘you can’t afford to quit your job, you stay there and save your money’.”

“About six months later she presented this plan to us. My husband, Danny Silva, was born, here and started sharing this with his friends. He thought it was a pretty good idea.”

“It was going to offer farm to table comfort food. It was called ‘Double R’. It was going to have a nice cocktail lounge. It was nice,” Sandie stated. “We leased a space by the Target on West Pacheco Blvd.”

“What happened was I was a signer on the account and the bank called me that the account was overdrawn, and I said, ‘we haven’t started construction, yet. How can it be overdrawn?’” Sandie continued. “That was the first time. Robin gave me some con story that she had a loan that hadn’t funded, yet and that she called and explained it to the bank, and everything was fine. Then I got a second phone call from the bank and the account was $50,000 overdrawn. So, I went down to the bank and got a printout and saw that the day after we deposited funds, she started writing checks to herself.”

“I went over to her house, my husband and I met with her and her husband, and told her you’re not my daughter, you just screwed over my family, and you better start talking,” Sandie stated. “Robin said, ‘I know. I thought I could fix it before anyone found out.’ Then she told me she was going to sue our attorney, who set up our LLC, for malpractice and give us our money back.”

“She did actually file a lawsuit against him, but it was dismissed. She didn’t get anything from it,” Sandie added.

“Robin had purchased a liquor license and it was in escrow, she didn’t pay the seller, she gave him back the license and she took the money out of escrow and kept it, she didn’t put it back in the escrow account,” Sandie explained. “But she’s a convicted felon so she put the liquor license in her son’s name. She was writing to the checks ABC, but they must have told her they couldn’t accept her checks, so, she forged my signature on a $10,000 check.”

That wasn’t one of the charges. “They said I would have to take her court,” Sandie stated.

“All these people, they only trusted her because I trusted her,” she continued. “That’s kind of a heavy weight to carry.”

“My heart really broke, today because I was sending someone I loved to prison,” Sandie shared. “But I didn’t believe anything coming out of her mouth, today. I’m a sucker but I wasn’t suckered, today.”

“I have to tell you, that judge and Travis, they did their jobs,” Sandie stated. “Even if we lost, today I’m proud of the job they did.”

“Everything went good, because she was found guilty,” Danny Silva said. “The problem I had was the people in Sacramento.”

“I’m all for giving people a second chance,” he continued. “So, a minimum sentence like this for a first offense. But it’s not here first offense. If you keep making the same mistakes and no consequences, you’re going to keep doing it. The thing is she can be out for six to eight months. I hope I’m wrong. But I’m willing to bet $20 she’s out in eight months or sooner. She has nothing to worry about. The judge knew she’s a habitual liar and con artist. It’s a shame our system doesn’t punish these people more.”

As with most white collar crime cases, the investigation required time intensive forensic accounting and a large collaboration among several agencies. White-collar crime is taken very seriously by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, as the effects are often far reaching and can financially devastate individuals and businesses. The DA’s Office thanked the Franchise Tax Board, Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Los Banos Police Department for their collaboration and shared that it is greatly appreciated to see that the defendant was brought to justice in this case.

Andy English contributed to this report.

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