Santa Clarita Valley Woman Sentenced to More Than 4 Years in Prison for Embezzling $1.7 Million Through Diversity Recruitment Scam
LOS ANGELES – The former human resources manager at a Santa Clarita-based race car design and development company was sentenced today to 51 months in federal prison for scheming to defraud her then-employer out of more than $1.7 million earmarked for diversity recruitment by using two fake businesses that billed for services that were never performed.
Judith Fernandez-Adelugba, 45, of Stevenson Ranch, was sentenced by United States District Judge John F. Walter, who also ordered her to pay $1,745,964 in restitution. At today’s hearing, Judge Walter said Fernandez-Adelugba was “driven by pure greed” and that her criminal conduct had left her employer “shaken to the core.”
Fernandez-Adelugba pleaded guilty in August 2021 to one count of wire fraud. She worked as the chief human resources manager at a business identified in court documents as “Company-1,” a Santa Clarita-based company that provided a technical and operations center for high performance racing programs and specialized in the design and development of high-performance automotive parts.
Fernandez-Adelugba was responsible for the company’s diversity recruitment, which included implementing and managing programs to encourage persons from diverse gender, racial, ethnic, and other backgrounds to apply for jobs with her employer. She also had the authority to approve the payment of invoices of up to $25,000.
To assist her in the scheme, Fernandez-Adelugba recruited her father, George Fernandez, 75, of Stevenson Ranch, and Alex Lawrence Wilkison, 49, of Canyon Country, who was married to Fernandez-Adelugba’s work colleague at Company-1. George Fernandez was the president and CEO of the Stevenson Ranch-based company, Business Solutions Services (BSS). Wilkison was the registered owner of Engineering Talent Connect (ETC), a fictitious business name registered to an address in Mission Hills.
From March 2015 until her resignation from Company-1 in February 2018, Fernandez-Adelugba, her father, and Wilkison used BSS and ETC to embezzle Company-1 funds – money they used for their own personal enrichment. Participants in the scheme submitted to Company-1 fake invoices issued by BSS and ETC that requested payment for diversity recruitment-related services purportedly performed. These “services” included posting job openings, placing job-related advertisements, searching for candidates, and successfully recruiting candidates for Company-1.
Fernandez-Adelugba approved the fake invoices for payment, delivered them to Company-1’s accounting department, and followed up to request and facilitate payment of the fake invoices.
After Company-1 issued payments on the fake invoices, Fernandez-Adelugba and her co-schemers used their illicit gains for personal expenditures such as trips to Las Vegas, credit card bills and dining at restaurants.
From March 2015 to November 2017, Fernandez-Adelugba caused 150 fake invoices to be submitted to Company-1, which in turn caused it to transfer a total of $1,745,964 to the two scheme-related companies – $1,562,364 to BSS and $183,600 to ETC.
Fernandez-Adelugba paid kickbacks to her co-schemers and kept more than $1.1 million of the scheme’s ill-gotten gains, which she used for her personal benefit.
“Company-1 suffered more than just that feeling of betrayal,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “[Fernandez-Adelugba’s] embezzlement of funds earmarked for diversity recruitment caused Company-1 to fall behind its diversity recruiting goals. Because of [Fernandez-Adelugba’s] greed and selfishness, many worthy diverse engineers may have been denied potential careers at Company-1.”
Wilkison pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of wire fraud and is serving a six-month federal prison sentence. Judge Walter ordered Wilkison to pay $183,600 in restitution.
George Fernandez has agreed to pay $103,140 in restitution to Company-1 as part of a pretrial diversion agreement with federal prosecutors. A superseding information filed in September 2021 charged Fernandez with misprision of a felony for failing to report his daughter’s act of wire fraud in March 2018 despite knowing of her criminal conduct.
The FBI investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Scott Paetty of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.