Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
For Immediate Release
Susan Kang Schroeder
COSTA MESA MAN CONVICTED OF STEALING $35,000 FROM WOMEN’S DRUG REHABILITATION NON-PROFIT BY DEFRAUDING CHARITY RAFFLE
NEWPORT BEACH – A Costa Mesa man was convicted today of stealing almost $35,000 from a drug rehabilitation non-profit organization under the pretense of purchasing and fixing a high-end car to be raffled as a charity fundraiser. Steven John Lafata, 60, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of grand theft. He was sentenced to three years of formal probation, 270 days in jail, and ordered to pay $37,000 in restitution to the victim to cover the theft and cost of civil litigation. He was also ordered to pay $750 in restitution to the State of California for failure to pay sales tax on the car.
New Directions for Women (NDW) is a Costa Mesa non-profit organization that provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation services for women, including pregnant women and mothers. Lafata offered to help NDW raise money by providing them with a high end-car for a charity raffle.
Between January and April 2007, Lafata promised to purchase a 1988 Ford Mustang Cobra prototype for NDW. He claimed he could purchase and restore the car to collector quality for $35,000 and raffle it at a value between $65,000 and $75,000. He instead purchased a 1989 Ford Mustang, appraised at $8,300, and performed minimal work on the car.
After purchasing the vehicle, Lafata filed false information with the State of California regarding the purchase price of the car, claiming it only cost $750 in order to avoid Department of Motor Vehicle registration fees.
The charity raffle winner went to pick up the vehicle from Lafata and reported to NDW, complaining that the car was not the promised car or the quality that had been represented for the fundraiser. NDW reported the theft to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy District Attorney Yvette Patko of the Major Fraud Unit prosecuted this case.