Ex-ABAG director pleads guilty to embezzlment charges

Embezzled proceeds intended for San Ramon's Windemere Ranch housing development

A former financial services director for the Association of Bay Area Governments has pleaded guilty to a fraud charge in federal court in San Francisco and admitted to embezzling nearly $3.9 million from the agency, including money related to San Ramon's Windemere Ranch development.

Clarke Howatt, 56, formerly of Oakland, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer and will be sentenced by Breyer on March 23.

He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in the electronic transfer in 2014 of $1.3 million in stolen funds slated for public improvements related to a San Francisco development project.

At the same time, he admitted during the plea that he stole an additional nearly $2.6 million related to a San Ramon project between 2011 and January of this year, making the total theft close to $3.9 million.

The conviction carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Howatt, who resigned in late January when the embezzlement began to be discovered, was in charge of bonds issued by an ABAG affiliate, the ABAG Finance Authority for Nonprofit Corporations, known as FAN.

The bond proceeds were to be used for public works such as streets, sidewalks and schools to offset the impacts of building developments. ABAG, based in Oakland, is a regional planning agency for nine Bay Area counties.

The first embezzlement to be discovered was the theft of $1.3 million intended for improvements related to the highrise Rincon Hill development in the South of Market district of San Francisco.

Howatt admitted in the plea agreement that he submitted a fraudulent request to FAN in Aug. 12, 2014, for reimbursement of $1.3 million for improvements supposedly made by the developer. He admitted that in fact, the actual developer had never submitted such a request and that he had the money sent to a bank account he controlled.

Howatt also acknowledged in the plea agreement that he took three similar fraudulent actions to embezzle bond proceeds intended for capital improvements related to the Windemere Ranch housing development in San Ramon.

The amounts fraudulently transferred to Howatt's bank accounts were $1,098,712 in 2011; $1,225,000 in 2014; and $256,082 on Jan. 26, 2015, according to the agreement.

ABAG said in a statement that it has obtained financial restitution from Howatt to restore the funds in all the affected accounts, and is now in the process of making the reimbursements.

The agency has also taken measures to reduce the risk of theft, it said.

"The accounts embezzled by a former employee will be restored in full," ABAG executive director Ezra Rapport said in the statement.

"We are committed to protecting and preserving public funds and we will be working to put measures into place that will enhance our ability to detect and avert any future malfeasance," Rapport said.

After the San Francisco-related theft was discovered in late January, Howatt cooperated with ABAG, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in the investigation, ABAG said.

Howatt has been free on $500,000 bail since he was charged with the wire fraud count in February.

— Bay City News Service

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6 people like this
Posted by NotSurprised
a resident of Del Prado
on Dec 23, 2015 at 10:10 am

Another article (SFgate)mentions that before working for ABAG we worked for "financial services companies". Apparently he put his training to good use.
Hope he gets significant jail time.

9 people like this
Posted by KMC
a resident of Dublin
on Dec 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

It is anonymous to write if you suspect fraud. Thank you to the person(s) who reported this man, as well as James Tong.

Web Link - this talks about how to engage the grand jury to investigate cases related to public officials (see pages 127-130)

Web Link to engage the FBI related to public official corruption if you think you have a situation where this applies.

Kamala Harris, California State Attorney General, encourages the engagement of the local District Attorney's Office servicing your area if you feel you have a case of fraud or other activity that is a cause for concern by a public official.

For Alameda County which covers Pleasanton and Dublin, that would be

For Contra Costa County which covers San Ramon, that would be Web Link.

2 people like this
Posted by Disgruntley
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2015 at 9:34 pm

ABAG, along with corruption and dereliction of duty by a growing number of officials we can't trust but HAVE TO, with no accountability whatsoever. Government and it's waste and abuse of our money and trust are at an all-time high. There's CalPERS, law enforcement, ...even CSAC and its cotractor, Systema software, can't be bothered to their jobs by refraining from neglegently exposing millions of govt. employees unprotected, unencrypted medical histories on an wide-open internet folder for almost a year (minimum). They refused to offer any sort of protection and immediately changed their insurance clauses to avoid even more responsibility to safeguard it next time around. Bloated, greedy and self-serving has become the name of the game for a shocking many who spend our money for us in their own best interest with little, if any, oversight or checks/balances and it's troubling and disappointing.

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