Santa Paula Times

Michael Suniga

SPPD: Former SPHS Band member
arrested in booster club theft case

October 03, 2014
Santa Paula News

A former Santa Paula High School Band member who had remained active with the organization turned himself in and was arrested Tuesday for suspicion of embezzling up to $22,000 from the Band Booster Club.

According to Sgt. Cody Madison, police obtained an arrest warrant for Michael Suniga, 29 of Santa Paula, on Monday and, “He came in with his attorney and turned himself in today.”

The case that outraged the community started on April 28 when Madison said members of the Santa Paul High School Band Booster Club, an organization independent of the district, contacted police “The concern that that they had been the victims of an embezzlement by a member,” Suniga.  

SPPD Detective Randy Haumann began a “Long investigation involving multiple interviews with victims and witnesses, service of multiple search warrants at different locations, and finally a forensic audit conducted by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.”

The community rallied around the band, which lacked the $17,000 it was counting on to pay the way for 44 band members to play in a national competition being held in San Francisco in mid-May.

A frenzy of fundraising that included online donations, bake sales, solicitations by Police Chief Steve McLean, benefit concert and other activities raised about $40,000 that not only allowed the band members to make the trip but also have reserve funds.

The private, nonprofit booster club, which pays for new instruments and band trips, reported the loss to its insurer.

Madison said the result of the DA’s Office audit “Showed that approximately $15,000 to $22,000 was embezzled from the booster club.”

After turning himself in and being booked, Suniga was transported to Ventura County Jail and bail set at $50,000.

The suspect, said Madison, “Had been a band member at the high school and since he graduated would volunteer his time to help the kids out, teach the band how to march, things like that.”

Suniga had been the volunteer Booster Club treasurer up until just before the funds were reported missing, alleged thefts that had occurred from October 2013 to March 2014.

“He’d been the treasurer for about six months,” said Madison.

“And there’s a lot of cash that is hard to trace that comes into organizations such as booster clubs, which only made the forensic audit more challenging.

“It was a really long and exhaustive investigation,” said Madison, “especially with the forensic accountant.”

Suniga was already on probation when he was arrested; according to Ventura County Court records he pled guilty in February to misdemeanor grand theft-embezzlement, a case investigated by the Oxnard Police Department that arrested Suniga in 2013.

In that case Suniga also served two weeks in jail.