Press release from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office:
On February 1, 2021, Judge Christopher Wilson sentenced 68-year-old Peggy Esterley to 364 days in jail and two years of probation for her conviction on six counts of theft of an elder/dependent adult with the special allegation of embezzlement over $500,000. The District Attorney’s Office accepted the plea with possible sentences ranging from probation alone to 4 years in state prison. Judge Wilson noted the “egregious” amount of loss when sentencing Esterley. She was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.
The victim hired the defendant as a bookkeeper for his small business in 1995 and believed they had developed a close personal relationship over the years. The defendant embezzled thousands of dollars per week over many years. In 2015 Esterley resisted the victim’s attempt to wind down the business. In August 2017 the embezzlement was discovered.
At that point Esterley admitted the crimes to the victim, attributed her conduct to financial difficulties and said she hoped the victim would forgive her. The victim died less than five months later at age 87.
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Braden Brawner, then a detective with HCSO now an investigator with the D.A.’s Office, executed search warrants for financial accounts, tax records, computers and cell phones.
A civil settlement provided $300,000 in restitution, but subsequent investigation revealed that Esterley had misrepresented both the duration and the amount of the embezzlement. Audits of the accounts, which were limited by a lack of historical records and Esterley’s practice of shredding documents, revealed theft of almost $1.2 million. Esterley’s expenditures included: gifts, inventory for her sister’s business, living expenses for her brother, a trailer, shopping sprees, and trips to Italy and Ireland.
Deputy District Attorney Shelly Small prosecuted the case. Michael Robinson represented the defendant.