Crime

Paso church employee pleads no contest to embezzling $200,000 — now she faces prison time

An office employee for a Paso Robles church on Wednesday pleaded no contest to embezzling more than $200,000 from the congregation.

Claire Eastin, 51, was accused of stealing the money from Life Community Church over the course of about six years, according to San Luis Obispo County Superior Court records.

The county District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against her in November 2018. In January, she pleaded not guilty to all charges against her.

On Wednesday, Eastin appeared before Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen with her attorney, Brian Buckley of the Public Defender’s Office, and pleaded no contest to two counts of grand theft by embezzlement.

The District Attorney’s Office dismissed a third embezzlement charge as part of a plea agreement.

According to the agreement, Eastin will likely face two years and eight months in state prison. In addition, Eastin will be required to pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the church.

Buckley declined The Tribune’s request for comment after the hearing.

Paso Embezzelment024
Claire Eastin was accused of embezzling in 2018 more than $200,000 from Life Community Church in Paso Robles, where she was an office manager. Eastin confers with public defender Brian Buckley during her court hearing. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

‘There’s no winners’

Eastin embezzled money from the Life Community congregation from January 2012 to April 2018 and falsified records to conceal the theft, according to a criminal complaint.

Church staff discovered the embezzlement when Eastin was out on sick leave, said Pastor Keith Newsome. He and others confronted her, and she allegedly admitted to stealing the money.

Eastin — who worked at the church for 12 to 13 years — was fired from her position after the embezzlement came to light, Newsome said.

Church leaders kept the matter in-house for several months before eventually contacting the District Attorney’s Office out of a sense of responsibility to the public, he said.

A group of Life Community members attended Eastin’s hearing, looking on as she entered her pleas.

“There’s no winners,” Joanie Williams said as the group left the courthouse. “It’s a very sad day, but we were looking for justice and fairness.”

The members said they’re disappointed in Eastin, who they’re praying for and considered their friend.

“It’s a very sad, difficult time for all of us,” Williams said.

Eastin’s sentencing hearing will be held before van Rooyen on Nov. 18 at 8:30 a.m.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.
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