Judge indicates Marie Taliaferro, 57, likely will get seven years in prison
Contra Costa Times, Feb. 21, 2003
By Corey Lyons, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
A former university cashier has pleaded guilty to embezzling $4.5 million from UC San Francisco, a scheme that funded a short-lived spiritual magazine and an angel-theme gallery in Lafayette.
Marie Taliaferro, 57, pleaded guilty Tuesday to 21 felony counts — including grand theft and money laundering — in the largest cash embezzlement case in the university’s history.
In a deal struck before the start of trial, San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Stewart indicated that he would sentence the Moraga woman to seven years in prison.
Taliaferro, who is free on $350,000 bail, is scheduled to be sentenced May 23.
“The D.A. will do everything in its power, legally, to convince the judge that he should not go forward with this lenient deal — and let it go to trial,” said assistant district attorney John Carbone Jr.
Taliaferro faces a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars, according to San Francisco prosecutors. Her attorney, public defender Henry Doering, did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Taliaferro, who had been the university’s head cashier, was fired from her $55,800-a-year job in August 1999 under a cloud of suspicion that she had been stealing piles of cash.
In December 1999, the 17-year employee was arrested at her Moraga home on suspicion of using university money to fund Solimar Inc., a now-defunct company founded by her daughter, Christina.
About $2.5 million was funneled into Solimar, a Lafayette startup with a New Age magazine that folded not long after the investigation.
“The unusual thing about this case is that she walked off with $4.5 million in cash,” Carbone said. “I’ve seen funds electronically transferred or checks forged. But the sheer bulk of cash that she walked off with would have been a stack of bills close to a foot-tall every day.”
A San Francisco grand jury indicted the Taliaferros in April 2001 on a litany of charges, including embezzlement, grand theft and money laundering.
Christina Taliaferro, also known as Sunni, is free on bond in a separate trial that is scheduled to start May 27.
“I don’t think the daughter has done anything wrong, and I think that will come out over the course of the trial,” said Freya Horne, Christina Taliaferro’s attorney.
Christina Taliaferro, a former grocery store clerk, founded Solimar in 1997 and headed its angel-inspired gallery — Wings of Solimar — as well as a spiritual magazine, Solimar: Living in the New Millennium.
The former gallery, on Mt. Diablo Boulevard in Lafayette, featured figurines, fountains and paintings from artist Joanne Koenig-Macko, whose work had been displayed at the United Nations.
In a 1997 interview with the Times, Christina Taliaferro said she and her mom had “invested their savings” to bankroll the new venture. Christina spoke of big plans for the slick periodical, saying she wanted 40,000 subscribers by the end of the first year and 100,000 by the end of the third.
“I think Christina was trying to do some good things. But you can’t do good things with bad money,” said Moraga author Cynthia Brian, who was profiled in the magazine in 1999.
Solimar filed for bankruptcy in October 1999, saying its debts had exceeded $100,000.
In a bankruptcy court proceeding, Sarah Lenz, a former vice president of Solimar, said Marie Taliaferro was the “main source of funding” for the operation. But Lenz stressed that she “did not know where the money came from.”
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