Local News

Wednesday, Feb 06 2013 02:08 PM

Pair agree to plead guilty in Builders' Exchange theft case

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian government editor cbedell@bakersfield.com

A father and daughter accused of embezzling more than half a million dollars total from a local builders group took a plea deal Wednesday that's expected to require they pay restitution and serve long felony probations terms but spare them prison time.

Darlene Ocampo, former office manager for the nonprofit Kern County Builders' Exchange and the related for-profit KCBEX Inc., pleaded no contest to every count and enhancement against her.

If she'd been convicted of all the theft-related charges against her, Ocampo could have been sentenced to 12 years and eight months in prison, but the judge in the case didn't want her locked up because of prison overcrowding and the fact she has advanced breast cancer, said Deputy District Attorney Greg Pulskamp.

Ocampo, 49, is also expected to be sentenced to 10 years felony probation and to pay $630,000 in restitution, Pulskamp said.

Ocampo's father, Philip Field, former executive manager of Builders' Exchange and CEO of KCBEX, pleaded no contest to one count of grand theft.

It's anticipated he'll be compelled to serve three years felony probation and pay $50,000 restitution, Pulskamp said.

Builders' Exchange is a nonprofit association of general contractors, subcontractors, engineers, architects, manufacturers, suppliers and others in the construction industry. KCBEX is a business arm of the group.

Pulskamp called the plea deals an "extraordinary" result to a years long, closely watched case because despite essentially pleading guilty to all of the very serious accusations against her, Ocampo is expected to avoid a prison term when sentenced next month.

Two or three years ago -- before certain prison overcrowding measures were enacted -- and had she not gotten sick, Ocampo probably would have done time if convicted as prosecutors were insisting she be all the way up to Wednesday, Pulskamp said.

In the end, he explained, the District Attorney's office had no say in Ocampo's punishment. Once Ocampo pled to every charge -- two counts of grand theft, one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy -- it was up to Kern County Superior Court Judge Colette Humphrey to decide the consequences, he said.

"She's a good judge and I respect her," Pulskamp said. "I don't agree with what she did, but under the circumstances I understand it.

"Do we want taxpayers to be responsible for this woman's ongoing cancer treatments?"

Ocampo's attorney, Tony Lidgett, could not be reached for comment. Ocampo has previously declined to comment on the case to The Californian.

The criminal complaint filed in August 2011 after a lengthy investigation alleged Ocampo and Field misappropriated several hundreds of thousands of dollars. A Bakersfield Police Department request for criminal charges said they stole some $830,000 from both companies.

Authorities alleged the money was spent on such things as paying off a second mortgage, buying an RV and purchasing a home for a relative.

Field, 83, was executive manager of Builders' Exchange from 1975 until his firing in August 2009; in 2003 he took on additional duties as CEO of KCBEX, according to the police department's probable cause statement.

The criminal complaint said, among other things, Field and Ocampo opened multiple credit card accounts to incur personal expenses paid for by Builders' Exchange or KCBEX; Field gave Ocampo pre-signed checks to cover personal expenses; and the two falsified financial reports to facilitate the theft.

A civil case Builders' Exchange filed against the pair in 2009 was put on hold pending the criminal investigation. The suit sought $1.2 million.

Field's attorney, David Torres, blamed Ocampo solely for the theft and credited his client with bringing Builders' Exchange to prominence and doing "an excellent job running the organization."

"He had no idea she was committing this kind of embezzlement," Torres said. "He didn't benefit one scintilla from what she did."

He said Field pleaded no contest because the deal spared them jail at a time his daughter is quite ill, having undergone a double mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments.

"If she were sentenced to 12 years in state prison, realistically that's a life sentence," Torres said of Ocampo. "Who knows what the care in state prison is. He loves his daughter, despite the fact she destroyed his life."

Pulskamp, however, said his office believes Field was aware of -- and literally signed off on -- several of Ocampo's fraudulent transactions.

"He had some of his own," Pulskamp also said of Field. "But they were not nearly as egregious."

Tony Marion, a member of the Builders' Exchange board of directors, said he and his colleagues are conflicted about the plea deal. They're glad it promises to make Ocampo and Field convicted felons, he said, but disappointed it stands to keep them out of prison.

Marion said the board plans to discuss next week how to proceed with the civil lawsuit.

"It's a bittersweet victory for us today," he said. "No jail time sends the wrong message to the public, that you can steal that much money and not get jail time. But we got our restitution decree."

"The organization is still strong," Marion added. "We will put this behind us and move on."

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