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Theater Employee Is Accused of Embezzling $42,200

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The box-office manager of the Orange County Performing Arts Center has been fired and charged with grand theft in an alleged embezzlement scheme in which he concocted $42,200 in phony ticket returns and credited the amounts to his personal credit cards.

Tuan “Chris” Tong had worked at the center for about eight years and was box-office manager for about three years before his firing Oct. 6, according to Costa Mesa police reports. The 31-year-old Santa Ana man turned himself in to police on Monday and was later released on his own recognizance.

Police said that center financial officers provided evidence that over a two-month span--from late July to late September--Tong had created 75 false transactions in which fictitious customers returned tickets. He then applied the refunds to his own credit cards. Tong, center officials told police, escaped detection because the bucks literally stopped at his desk when it came to accounting for ticket refunds: He was “the supervisor who checks and approves returns . . . [and] would be the person to raise the red flag if several suspicious returns were being made,” according to the police report.

The red flag was raised instead by Bank of America, which alerted the center’s controller, Brian Finck, on Sept. 26 that 32 cash credits totaling $19,489 had shown up on Tong’s Visa card between July 22 and Sept. 24. Finck subsequently found similar fraudulent credits to four other Tong credit cards during roughly the same time, according to the police report; he checked back two years but found no other suspicious transactions.

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As a result of the alleged embezzlement, the center has “added additional safeguards” in its box-office procedures, spokesman Todd Bentjen said. “We are doing a full investigation of the box-office operation, but we’re confident that was an isolated incident.” Bentjen said that no other center employees had been disciplined or dismissed in connection with the investigation.

Bentjen said that theft insurance will cover any losses from the alleged embezzlement; he said he could not comment on the center’s prospects of recovering its losses from Tong.

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Times correspondent Theresa Moreau contributed to this report.

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