A former Laguna Beach resident who authorities say befriended small-business owners and stole more than $1.5 million from them was sentenced Monday to more than five years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge David Carter sentenced Elizabeth Jane Mulder, 34, of San Juan Capistrano to 63 months in prison and ordered her to pay more than $1.53 million in restitution to seven victims, including small-business owners and the Internal Revenue Service.
Mulder pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud and subscribing to a false tax return, both felonies, as part of a deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for a potentially reduced prison sentence. She originally faced up to 23 years in prison, according to court documents.
According to authorities, Mulder devised a scheme in which she gained the trust of local small-business owners, agreed to act as their accountant and then embezzled money from them between July 2009 and May 2016.
Mulder told the business owners she was an accountant and president of Mulder Financial Consulting, authorities said. Actually, however, she was a saleswoman for a soil and fertilizer company, Laguna Beach police said.
Police alleged Mulder deceived clients into making checks payable to a phony business she created called Income Tax Payments under the guise that those payments would satisfy the clients’ outstanding federal tax obligations.
“By developing and continuing personal friendships with the victims, [Mulder] was able to assume responsibilities for their small-business accounting needs and then proceeded to steal from them,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court.
“[Mulder]’s conduct resulted in various levels of financial loss and emotional distress to the victims, many of whom were required to drain their personal bank accounts or retirement funds in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy.”
Mulder became the subject of a fraud investigation in January 2016 after the owner of San Clemente-based JAC Wines told police that he suspected his accountant had stolen $200,000 from him.
During the 18-month investigation, police identified other businesses that Mulder is believed to have embezzled from, including Toni & Guy Hair Salon in Newport Beach, the Kurtz-Ahlers travel agency in San Juan Capistrano, Bella Pilates in San Clemente, Andra Builders Inc. in Costa Mesa and California Print 2 Copy in Irvine.
According to federal prosecutors, Mulder used the money for personal expenses, including a luxury rental home in Laguna Beach, cosmetic surgery, vacations and an Arabian horse.
Mulder also was accused of filing tax returns from 2011 to 2016 that did not show her true income for those years, according to court documents.