Stung by a $16-million embezzlement, school district sues former official who pleaded guilty to it

Jorge Armando Contreras deposits $89,150 at an ATM in Brea.
A surveillance photo obtained from court records shows Jorge Armando Contreras making a deposit for $89,150 at a Wells Fargo ATM in Brea.
(U.S. District Court)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, April 3. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at the latest local news and events.

A former official with the Magnolia School District, which serves 5,300 preschool-to-sixth-grade students in Anaheim and Stanton, 81% of whom are classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged, pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzling nearly $16 million from the district’s coffers.

Jorge Armando Contreras was paid $220,000 annually, but apparently that did not afford him a lavish enough lifestyle, according to reporting by Los Angeles Times staff writer Christopher Goffard, who has been following the case. Between 2016 and 2023, Contreras, who was overseeing the district’s fiscal operations, deposited more than 250 checks into his personal account, authorities said.


A surveillance photo The Times obtained from court records shows him depositing $89,150 at a Wells Fargo ATM in Brea. He would deposit money into his account under the phony names “Maria Socorro Dominguez” and “Magnia Socorro Dominguez,” the FBI said. According to the plea agreement, he originally wrote M.S.D. — the same initials as Magnolia School District — on the checks, with the letters spaced out.

“From August 2022 to July 2023 alone, prosecutors allege, Contreras stole $4.1 million from the district,” Goffard writes. “According to the charges, during that period, he paid $1.9 million to American Express, withdrew $325,000 from ATMs, and transferred more than $130,000 to the person who would become his marriage partner in August 2023.”

What else did he spend the money on before he was found out and put on administrative leave by the district? Federal prosecutors said some of it was used to buy a Yorba Linda house valued at $1.5 million, a $127,000 BMW and $190,000 in cosmetic surgery. Oh, and multiple Louis Vuitton designer bags.

The 53-year-old Contreras is currently free on a $450,000 bond, Goffard reports, as part of a plea agreement. He is expected to be sentenced in July, when he could get 10 years in prison.

In the meantime, Magnolia School District officials have filed a lawsuit against their former employee, Goffard reports.

“We are continuing to go after other assets, and possibly other people that knew about this, or were in on this,” Superintendent Frank Donavan said in a statement. “While we are thankful for the FBI’s prompt and thorough response, we find it hard to believe that he is only facing a maximum of 10 years. We also find it hard to believe that he is released on bail until July, when he is definitely a flight risk. The money he stole was mostly targeted for students with special needs.”


Laguna Beach High School campus.
Laguna Beach High School on Tuesday was investigating reports of inappropriate or nude photos of students created with artificial intelligence being distributed.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

An investigation was undertaken this week by Laguna Beach High School after reports of inappropriate or nude photos of students created with artificial intelligence being distributed. Principal Jason Alleman advised parents in a letter Monday of the reported incidents. “These actions not only compromise individual dignity but also undermine the positive and supportive environment we aim to foster at LBHS,” Alleman said in the letter.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last week to celebrate a new public pier in Newport Beach. The $9-million pier, located just south of Coast Highway and west of Bayside Drive, was paid for and built by the Irvine Co. as part of a deal with the California Coastal Commission that allows for expansion of the adjacent private marina. The Balboa Marina Public Pier features 26 private Irvine Co. docks as well as public docks that can fit up to 12 smaller, Duffy-sized vessels or several larger vessels

• In other Newport Beach news, having heard from owners of brick-and-mortar businesses unhappy with sidewalk vendors on their streets, the City Council voted last week to put more teeth into its existing ordinance that regulates such vendors by allowing for the confiscation of their equipment if they set up in unpermitted areas of the city. Sidewalk vending regulations were first adopted by the council in November 2018 after changes in state law forced Newport Beach to lift its ban on vendors.

• In a board meeting Thursday, OC Fair & Event Center leaders heard a proposal to raise fees for those who keep horses at the site’s Equestrian Center, the Daily Pilot reports. Board members were presented a phased-in plan for raising the monthly boarding fees for 100 private-use stalls over the next nine months. Costs will gradually climb from $644 per month for a 144-square-foot stall to $1,103 by January 2025 with a proportionate increase anticipated for larger stalls. Trainers who conduct lessons, camps and other activities would pay an additional $400 monthly facility use fee.

• The Garden Grove City Council last week approved a $152-million project to revamp its civic center, according to this report by my colleague Gabriel San Román. Plans include a new police station, four-level parking garage and park. To fund most of the work, the city in November issued $140 million in lease revenue bonds. The remaining costs will be covered by $12 million from the city’s civic center fund. Groundbreaking will take place in May. The targeted date for completion of the entire project is mid-2027.


Alan Jay Shwalbe was found killed in unincorporated Costa Mesa in August 1993.
Alan Jay Shwalbe was found killed in unincorporated Costa Mesa in August 1993. DNA and other forensic evidence from the scene have been analyzed over the years, but have so far failed to identify any suspect or motive. The O.C. Sheriffs Department reopened the investigation in 2022.
(Photo courtesy of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

• Cold case reward: Gov. Gavin Newsom is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the 1993 murder of Alan Schwalbe, a gay rights activist and real estate investor found stabbed to death in his unincorporated Costa Mesa home. Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigators began reexamining the case in 2022, the Daily Pilot reported.

• The O.C. doctor who is charged with attempting to murder her husband with Drano in 2022 is facing new charges, The Times reports. There are allegations in her upcoming divorce proceedings and criminal case that Emily Yu tried to coach her children to lie about their father. Yu and her husband, Jack Chen, are doctors in Irvine.

• Christian Huerta, 24, of Huntington Beach and Andrew Holguin, 26, of Midway City were both convicted last Wednesday in the June 20, 2019, killing of 45-year-old Duc Le, a homeless man, in Westminster. Jurors convicted Holguin of second-degree murder and Huerta of voluntary manslaughter.

• A man died early Monday after he was struck while standing in the lanes of the Riverside (91) Freeway in Yorba Linda, City News Service reported. The crash happened at 12:10 a.m. just east of Gypsum Canyon Road. A witness said the man was in the Nos. 2 and 3 lanes “trying to touch vehicles and get them to stop.”


Mike Ness
Mike Ness, shown at the Grammy Museum in 2019, is being honored Wednesday by the city of Fullteron.
(Timothy Norris / WireImage via Getty Images)

• Mike Ness, the frontman of the pioneering punk band Social Distortion, is being celebrated in his hometown of Fullerton today, April 3, his birthday. In a special ceremony at 3 p.m. at the Downtown Fullerton Plaza, Ness will be given the key to the city, according to a news release issued by City Hall. “Like so many of us, I grew up listening to Social Distortion, and the fact they are from our hometown made the connection deeper,” stated Mayor Nick Dunlap. The Times’ Mike Boehm interviewed Ness in 1990 when the band released its eponymous new album. In the 1970s, when Ness was 15 or 16, he told the reporter, his father and stepmother kicked him out of their Fullerton home for incorrigible behavior. Not long after that he found a creative outlet in music, after hearing the punk sounds of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, Ness recalled. “They sounded like I felt,” he said.

Soy Concha Bakery employee Don Adolfo Farias shelves a tray maiz-shaped bread known as elotes.
Soy Concha Bakery employee Don Adolfo Farias shelves a tray maiz-shaped bread known as elotes. The vegan panaderia in Santa Ana closed Saturday.
(Gabriel San Román )

• A popular vegan bakery in Santa Ana shuttered its retail operation at Bristol Civic Plaza last Saturday, but Soy Concha’s co-owners told TimesOC they are accepting delivery orders from around Orange County through the bakery’s website, business phone and social media accounts. There is another location of the pandería in East L.A.


Three actors in a drawing room for Moliere's "Tartuffe."
Katie Karel, left, Bo Foxworth and Shante DeLoach in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s “Tartuffe.”
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

• The Laguna Playhouse is presenting a transfer production from North Coast Repertory Theatre of “Tartuffe” by Molière. Previews begin April 17; the play runs through May 5. Performances are set for Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. There will be added performances on Thursday, April 25 at 2 p.m. and Tuesday, April 30 at 7:30 pm. There will be no 5:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, May 5. Tickets range from $45 to $84 and can be purchased online at or by calling (949) 497-2787.

• The Huntington Beach Art Center is gearing up for “Rasquachismo,” a multimedia art exhibition devoted to the “aesthetics and transformative power of lowriders,” according to organizers. It will be on view from Saturday, April 6 until Saturday, June 1. A public reception is set for 6:30 to 9 p.m. this Saturday, April 6, and will be preceded that afternoon by a car show that will run from 2 p.m. until dusk in the center’s parking lot, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach. Admission is free. Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Thursday, noon to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• The Horticulture Department at Orange Coast College will host its annual Spring Plant Sale on Fridays April 5 and 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days. All proceeds will go toward student scholarships and projects. The college is located at 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Park in Lot H or G.

• For animal lovers, two pet expos are coming up. In Lake Forest, the seventh annual South County Pet Expo will take place at the Lake Forest Sports Park and Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, April 6. In conjunction, a low-cost pet wellness clinic will be held. Also on Saturday the OC Pet & Reptile Expo will unfold at the OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa and continue on Sunday. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. General admission is $15, $10 for kids 4 to 12, free for kids 3 and younger.


Over the past several days The Times has published a few opinion pieces on happenings related to Orange County:

— Gustavo Arellano has a few choice thoughts about controversial Huntington Beach Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark in “I know who Trump should pick for VP — and she’s right here in O.C.”

— The Times’ editorial board on Monday served up this editorial on why it believes former Chapman University professor John Eastman deserves to lose his license to practice law in the state: “John Eastman tried to help Trump overturn the 2020 election. Of course he should be disbarred.”

— Writing on the climate and environment, columnist Sammy Roth likes what he sees in Disneyland’s plans to go all-electric in a beloved attraction, although he laments the change was not undertaken sooner: “Disneyland is ditching gas cars at Autopia. It’s a great first step for Tomorrowland.”


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