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Police say Fontana judge embezzled $40,000 from neighborhood group

Police say Fontana judge embezzled $40,000 from neighborhood group

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FONTANA — In his public life, David Jensen was known to be fair and impartial. The longtime municipal judge was a respected public servant who owned an insurance company and at one time operated a Geneva Lake mailboat.

But two months after his death, police says financial discrepancies have revealed a dark secret behind Jensen’s other position as treasurer of the homeowners association for his Indian Hills neighborhood.

Police now believe Fontana’s admired civic leader was a thief.

A police investigation that began after Jensen’s death Feb. 8 has determined that over the past nearly three years Jensen embezzled more than $40,000 from the homeowners association.

Indian Hills is a neighborhood of upscale homes in Fontana, including some on the lakefront.

According to police, leaders of the homeowners association came forth March 2 with evidence of Jensen’s alleged thievery contained in financial records dating back to July 2017. The total amount that investigators believe Jensen embezzled added up to $42,590.

When police broke the news to Jensen’s wife, Gabby Jensen, she denied any knowledge of the embezzlement, but she said he had accumulated $60,000 in debts for the couple.

“He was desperate,” she told police March 3 in a videotaped interview. “I think that contributed a lot to his death. He was under such stress.”

Jensen, who had been Fontana’s municipal judge for 12 years, died Feb. 8 at the age of 72, four days after suffering a heart attack in his home.

The Illinois native spent most of his life working as an insurance agent before moving to Fontana. As municipal judge, he collected a public salary of $6,700 a year.

He was seeking re-election to another term as municipal judge at the time of his death.

Fontana Police Chief Jeff Cates oversaw the investigation of Jensen’s alleged embezzlement. Cates said he concluded that Jensen acted alone in the thievery, and because Jensen is deceased, there is no way to prosecute him and no reason to investigate further.

The police chief consulted with Walworth County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Leusink before closing the case.

Cates said the Indian Hills homeowners association could pursue the matter in civil court, if association leaders want to try recouping the lost funds.

“The defendant in this matter is deceased, and it appears he acted alone,” Cates said. “With no one left to prosecute, it no longer becomes a criminal investigation.”

Wesley Samuels, president of the homeowners association, declined to comment.

The private association collects $1,000 a year from each of its estimated 100 homeowners to provide for landscaping and other services in the neighborhood.

Jensen was the group’s treasurer for 11 years.

Homeowners in the neighborhood say the association has struggled with financial difficulties and other signs of mismanagement. Landscaping improvements, walking path repairs and boat launch improvements have been delayed due to a lack of funding.

Thomas Dunn, a homeowner in the neighborhood for 24 years, said once evidence of Jensen’s embezzlement surfaced, it became clear why funding has been lacking for neighborhood upkeep.

“We’ve had all these things in disrepair that we have just been dragging our feet on getting the work done,” Dunn said. “It’s always been one excuse after the other. Well, we know why now.”

According to police records, Jensen inflated invoices for payments owed to private contractors by the association. Diverting checks to his private insurance business, Southern Lakes Capitol, Jensen then siphoned off money from the homeowners association.

Records show that Samuels reported Jensen had made deposits totaling $16,000 back into the Indian Hills account in an apparent attempt to repay what was embezzled.

As part of the investigation, police also interviewed two contractors who had performed work for Indian Hills and who had received payments from Jensen.

Peter Pawinski of Lake Way Pier Service and Edith Gonzalez of Gonzalez Lawn Company both told police they were unaware of the alleged embezzlement and were not involved in any way.

Cates said the financial records went back three years, and leaders of the homeowners association have not sought an investigation that goes back any further in Jensen’s years of work as the group’s treasurer.

Some homeowners have voiced dissatisfaction with how Samuels has handled the embezzlement matter.

Homeowners say a petition has been circulated calling for Samuels to resign. A board meeting was scheduled March 28 to discuss the situation, but the meeting was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Marita Magnuson, a homeowner for 18 years, said that while the embezzlement was unfortunate, she believes efforts to oust Samuels as the group’s president are unnecessary.

Dunn, however, said he fears that the association’s financial losses may have been worse than the police have reported.

“It could be $50,000 or closer to $200,000,” Dunn said. “Who knows?”

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