The wife of San Luis Obispo County’s top election official has admitted to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from a high school fundraising club. A criminal complaint filed by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office alleges Sherry Gong stole more than $32,000 from an Atascadero booster organization.
Sherry Gong, 47, is charged with three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement. The complaint filed in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court alleges between 2017 and 2018, Gong withdrew $32,554 from a Union Bank account belonging to the Atascadero High School Band and Pageantry Booster Club.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office alleges Gong withdrew another $3,104 on July 5, 2017 and then made two separate withdrawals of $9,850 and $19,600 on April 24, 2018.
Booster clubs help support high school activities by raising additional funds, often through the sale of items and concessions at high school sporting events. Gong was treasurer of the booster club.
Gong’s lawyer, Guy Galambo, said she needed the money to help a family member who contacted her, “in a panic.”
“He begged her for a large sum of money he needed within three days,” Galambos said in a statement. “Declaring it was a matter of life or death, but wouldn’t elaborate on the details. Sherry was frightened and embarrassed by her family member's problem and did not tell her husband or children.”
Galambos said Gong intended to return the money. He said when she was contacted by the Atascadero Police Department, she admitted to the theft and offered cashier’s checks as repayment. In an email to KCBX News Tuesday evening, Galambos said the cashier's check was for the amount of $28,500. Galambos said the check, "was kept as evidence until last week when the District Attorney agreed to release it to the booster club as partial reimbursement."
The San Luis Obispo District Attorney's Office couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
“Ms. Gong feels great remorse and shame for her actions,” Galambos said. “She seeks to repay the school organization as soon as possible and she wants to formally take responsibility for her mistakes.”
San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder Tommy Gong, whose job is to maintain the integrity of county elections and records, is not implicated in the charges. Gong said he didn’t know about the theft until his wife was contacted by police.
“This is a painful, personal family matter, and I ask that my family and I be granted privacy,” Gong said in a statement. “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.”
San Luis Obispo District Attorney Dan Dow said in a statement the case is being investigated by the Atascadero Police Department and is being prosecuted by deputy district attorney Michael Frye of the District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Unit.
If Sherry Gong is convicted, Dow’s office said the maximum penalty is four years and four months in San Luis Obispo County Jail.