Temecula woman pleads guilty to foster care embezzlement

RIVERSIDE – The former owner and CEO of a Riverside foster family agency pleaded guilty today to embezzlement and was immediately sentenced to three years and four months in prison.

Temecula resident Vivian Lieska Benn, 40, pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement by a public officer in a plea agreement at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Benn, who ran Family Hope Foster Family Agency, also admitted to a sentence-enhancing allegation of committing multiple felonies in the taking of more than $100,000 and less than $500,000, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

One count Benn pleaded guilty to is for embezzlement from 2004 to 2009 and the second count is for crimes from 2010 to 2012. Two other counts were dismissed as part of the plea deal. Both sides also agreed to a restitution amount of $450,000, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Foster family agencies are licensed by the California Department of Social Services and are required to be nonprofit organizations. The agencies are used to hire, license and oversee foster parents for the placement of foster children. Funding for foster children comes from local, state and federal monies. In Riverside County, the foster care program is administered by the Department of Public Social Services.

In May 2009, the Riverside County Auditor-Controller’s Office audited the Department of Public Social Services, including several foster family group homes and foster agencies, one of which was Family Hope.

The audit found that about $1.2 million of payments made to Family Hope by the Department of Public Social Services was ”unaccounted for,” according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The District Attorney’s Office started investigating in June 2012 and determined found that from 2004 to 2009, ”Family Hope FFA received millions of dollars of public money from DPSS intended for the care of foster children,” according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Further investigation found Benn had also embezzled from 2010-2012, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

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