Sherry Gong pleads guilty to embezzling from Atascadero High band, could avoid jail

The wife of San Luis Obispo County’s elected clerk-recorder pleaded guilty to three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement Wednesday, but she could avoid jail time.

Sherry Gong, 48, entered the open pleas — in which sentencing is left up to a judge’s discretion — after being accused of stealing more than $32,000 from the Atascadero High School band’s booster club.

Though she would be a multiple felon if her open pleas stand, the wife of the county’s top elections official would still be able to vote — if she completes her probation without any problems, according to the California secretary of state.

A District Attorney’s Office news release said that Gong entered the plea without a recommended sentence by the prosecution.

However, the DA’s Office news release says that Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy indicated during Wednesday’s hearing that she will grant Gong probation and made no promises of how much jail time, if any, she would order at sentencing.

“A defendant who is placed on probation for these felony charges can be required to serve a maximum of one year in the County Jail as a condition of probation,” District Attorney Dan Dow said in a written statement. “If probation is violated during the term of years, the defendant may then be sentenced to state prison for the remainder of the maximum term.”

The maximum possible sentence Gong faces four years and four months in state prison.

If she does end up in prison, Gong would be ineligible to vote in California, according to the Secretary of State.

Duffy accepted the pleas Wednesday after Gong’s case was re-assigned to her earlier in the morning after Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero recused himself for an unspecified conflict, court records show.

Defense attorney Guy Galambos, who represented Gong, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, saying that he would reserve discussing the case until after his client’s sentencing.

Galambos previously said that when Gong was first interviewed by law enforcement in April, she voluntarily gave an Atascadero police detective a cashier’s check for approximately $28,500 to repay the club.

Gong admitted in a statement provided by her attorney to embezzling “a large sum of money” from the Atascadero High School band’s booster club to help a family member facing an unspecified emergency last year, although one of the three charges was alleged to have occurred well before the family incident.

An open plea is one in which a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to all charges against them and essentially throws themselves on the mercy of the court for a fair sentence.

If the sentence is beyond what the defendant considers appropriate, the defendant may withdraw their plea and the criminal case will resume.

Other recent embezzlement cases in SLO County — including one in which far less money was stolen — have resulted in jail time.

In February, Chandra Dee Mehlschau, a treasurer for a nonprofit organization that supports Nipomo High School agriculture students, was convicted of one felony embezzlement charge for stealing $11,000 and was sentenced to 90 days in County Jail.

In January, Alexandre Soria, a former employee of the San Luis Obispo business iFixit, was sentenced to 364 days in County Jail for embezzling nearly $100,000 from the company.

Both defendants in those cases pleaded no contest or guilty to the charges.

Gong is scheduled to be sentenced by Duffy on Oct. 2.

This article has been updated to add comments from Gong’s attorney, as well as information about other recent embezzlement cases.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune