SLO County clerk’s wife admits embezzling $32,000 from Atascadero High band boosters

Sherry Gong, the wife of San Luis Obispo County’s top elections official, has admitted embezzling more than $32,000 from the Atascadero High School band’s booster club, according to a statement released by her attorney late Monday.

“About a year ago (April 2018) Sherry Gong was subjected to a highly stressful family crisis. A close family member called her in a panic. He begged her for a large sum of money he needed within 3 days, declaring it was a matter of life or death, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the details,” says the statement from attorney Guy Galambos.

Sherry Gong — wife of elected County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong — was “frightened and embarrassed” and did not tell her husband about the situation.

She “borrowed” funds from the Atascadero High School Band and Pageantry Booster Club, of which she was treasurer, with the intention of repaying it within the month, the statement says. The family member had promised to repay the ”emergency loan,” but the money was never returned.

Gong, 47, attempted to raise the missing money by borrowing from extended family members and selling some of her jewelry.

“When she was contacted by the Atascadero Police Department, Sherry agreed to an interview where she admitted her actions and she presented replacement funds to the investigating detective in the form of cashier’s checks. It was only after this meeting that her husband was informed,” Galambo’s statement continues.

Gong was charged Monday with three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement, which carries a maximum penalty of four years and four months in County Jail, according to Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth.

Soon after it was announced that charges had been filed, Tommy Gong sent a press release requesting “privacy for family matter” and stating that he will stand by her.

“My wife, Sherry Gong, is being charged for some criminal actions. I was not aware of this matter until I received a call from an Atascadero Police Department detective recently, and I am not implicated in these matters,” the release says.

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SLO County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said he was not implicated in the embezzlement charges against his wife, Sherry Gong. “This is a painful, personal family matter, and I ask that my family and I be granted privacy regarding this matter,” he said in a statement. Monica Vaughan

“This is a painful, personal matter, and I ask that my family and I be granted privacy regarding this matter. I deeply love and care for my wife and family, and I will stand by her side and support her during this very difficult time,” it says.

Sherry Gong has never been in any kind of criminal trouble before, according to her attorney, and she “feels great remorse and shame for her actions. She seeks to repay the school organization as soon as possible and she wants to formally take responsibility for her mistakes.”

As of Monday afternoon, court records showed a warrant had been ordered for Sherry Gong’s arrest. Jail logs did not show her in custody late Monday.

The criminal complaint filed Monday alleges Sherry Gong stole a total of $32,554 between July 2017 and April 2018; specifically, it is alleged that Gong embezzled $3,104 on July 5, 2017, $9,850 on April 24, 2018, and $19,600 on April 24, 2018.

The DA’s press release said the case is being investigated by the Atascadero Police Department and prosecuted by a deputy with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.

Gong is not the first treasurer for a local school booster club to be accused of stealing funds.

In February, Chandra Dee Mehlschau, 48, of Nipomo, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of embezzlement for stealing about $11,000 from Ag Friends, a nonprofit organization that supports Nipomo High School agriculture students. Mehlschau was sentenced to 90 days in County Jail in March.

Sherry Gong’s attorney Guy Galambos sent this statement to The Tribune the same day charges were filed against Gong. It says that she admits she took money from the band’s booster club when faced with a family crisis.

This article has been updated with the statement from Sherry Gong’s attorney and to correct that Gong faces the possibility of County Jail time, not state prison.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.