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Santa Rosa grocery clerk takes deal in embezzlement case

A former Santa Rosa grocery store cashier charged with embezzling $142,000 from his employers resolved his case Wednesday with an agreement that could land him in prison for up to 16 months.

Steven Lau, 57, of Forestville, pleaded no contest to a felony count of grand theft with enhancements for stealing the money from G&G Supermarkets over a three-year period ending in January.

Judge Robert LaForge said Lau could get anything from probation to 16 months in prison at his Dec. 11 sentencing. He faced up to four years in prison if convicted of four felonies at trial.

Prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi said she will push for the maximum. The store owners are leaving it up to the judge to decide his punishment, she said.

“They want him to reap a consequence and they would like their money back,” Ariyoshi said outside court.

Some of it already has been returned. After his May arrest, police seized $34,000 in cash from Lau's safe deposit box. Lau repaid another $8,000 from his bank accounts, Ariyoshi said.

Lau's lawyer, Richard Scott, said his client is prepared to hand over a check for $65,000 and will pay off the balance soon.

Lau remains free on bail.

The embezzlement, which is among the latest in a string of white collar thefts to hit Sonoma County businesses over the past few years, came to light when a customer returned food purchased at the store.

The receipt didn't match up, leading store officials to dig further into unusual cash register activity from the longtime, trusted employee, Ariyoshi said.

Lau appeared to be canceling a high number of transactions and marking them as returns, dating back to 2010, she said.

Police found Lau was taking the money for himself. Store surveillance cameras confirmed the theft, showing him making notes about sales and fudging receipts, she said.

LaForge will consider Lau's lack of a criminal history and a Probation Department report in determining a sentence. He made no guarantees, other than to set the maximum at 16 months.

“Essentially, it's an open plea,” LaForge said.

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