Booster club leader guilty of embezzlement

Band members and boosters from Costa Mesa High School lined up in court Thursday to scold a volunteer for the "utter monstrosity" of her crime: stealing tens of thousands of dollars from their booster club's coffers.

Jennifer Borders-Piatti, the former band booster club president, pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $50,000 from the group during 2011 and 2012.

She faced a maximum of three years in prison for a felony charge of grand theft, but as part of a plea agreement, an Orange County Superior Court judge sentenced her to a year in jail and three years of probation and ordered her to pay restitution — $51,974.32, what she stole plus interest.

"The impact of what has happened has been very devastating to our program," said band director Sandy Gilboe as she stood at a podium facing Borders-Piatti. "This has really been a betrayal to us. It's been a betrayal to me."

Boosters said the program has grown since Borders-Piatti's arrest last year, stretching depleted funds even further.

"We can't afford new hats, and I have 20 new kids who need hats," said Colleen Tinus, a booster and mother of a student, before the sentencing. "I'm totally disgusted with what she did."

It's unclear when Borders-Piatti will pay back the program.

Prosecutor Anne Selin said she'd hoped to have a check for boosters at Thursday's court date but that Borders-Piatti was unable to produce one.

The probation department will set up a plan to manage repayment.

"Sweat, blood and tears stained that money, but she didn't care," said Loralee Sepsey. The Costa Mesa High School senior

called Borders-Piatti's ability to look band members in the eye now "alien to me."

"Honestly, your honor, she's only sorry she got caught," Loralee said.

Costa Mesa police arrested Borders-Piatti, who was 50 at the time, in October after searching her house and finding evidence that linked her to the theft of funds.

At the time, law-enforcement officials said she had been making credit card purchases and ATM withdrawals from the booster's account that were unrelated to the band.

"This was no mistake, not a one-time thing," said Mariel LeValley, the new booster president.

LeValley said boosters discovered trips to Victoria's Secret and checks written to Piatti's personal business.

"Your honor, our boosters club doesn't need to go shopping at Ralphs every week or pay the Time Warner Cable bill," LeValley said.

Borders-Piatti nodded when LeValley asked her if she understood that stealing for own selfish needs crossed the line, particularly for a parent volunteer.

Throughout the boosters' and students' statements, Borders-Piatti sat about 10 feet in front of the speakers and often bit her lower lip as she looked them in the eyes.

She responded briefly to the 20 people in the audience before receiving her sentence and reporting to probation across the hall.

"I am so very sorry. I have no excuse," Borders-Piatti said, later adding that she wouldn't go into why she did what she did.

"My children and my husband have nothing to do with this," she said. "Please don't take it out on them."

Her priorities, she said, are mending her family and repaying her debt to the band.

"I do love you all," she said. "I know you find that hard to believe."

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