A San Luis Obispo attorney is facing federal wire fraud charges after an investigation revealed he allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a client, much of which he spent at casinos in California and Nevada.
Stephen Christopher Ronca was arrested on Thursday at his home in San Luis Obispo and was arraigned before a U.S. magistrate judge in Los Angeles, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He pleaded not guilty to 28 counts of wire fraud and was released from custody in lieu of $100,000.
Each of the fraud charges carries a maximum charges of 30 years in federal prison.
According to a federal indictment, Ronca is accused of stealing approximately $250,000 from a San Luis Obispo client, identified as S.K. The attorney had access to S.K.’s living trust, which she inherited from a man identified as K.K. Ronca set up the trust in July 2000, and S.K. became beneficiary when K.K. died in 2012.
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Ronca is accused of transferring money from the trust account into his personal checking account for his own use.
He allegedly withdrew some of this money using ATMs in Las Vegas, South Lake Tahoe and at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, among other locations. In some cases, he allegedly wrote and deposited checks made out to himself and cashed checks made out to “cash.”
Ronca is also accused of using a property included in the trust, located on Poinsettia Street in San Luis Obispo, as collateral for a nearly $90,000 loan. To pay off the loan, Ronca then sold the property.
By February 2014, Ronca had allegedly drained the trust account.
The State Bar of California suspended Ronca’s law license for 30 days on March 12 and placed him on probation for a year for gross negligence, mishandling his client trust account and failing to maintain sufficient funds. His license was reactivated on April 11 and currently remains active, according to the State Bar’s website.
The FBI is continuing its investigation to determine whether other clients were part of the alleged scheme. Ronca will stand trial on Aug. 8 and is being represented by Deputy Federal Public Defender Kim Savo.