Temecula Woman Pleads Guilty to Stealing from Children in Foster Care Scam

Temecula resident Vivian Lieska Benn, 40, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of embezzlement by a public officer in a plea agreement at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Vivian Lieska Benn Photo/Riverside County Sheriff's Dept.
Vivian Lieska Benn Photo/Riverside County Sheriff's Dept.

The former owner and CEO of a Riverside foster family agency pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzlement and was immediately sentenced to three years and four months in prison.

Temecula resident Vivian Lieska Benn, 40, pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement by a public officer in a plea agreement at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Benn, who ran Family Hope Foster Family Agency, also admitted to a sentence-enhancing allegation of committing multiple felonies in the taking of more than $100,000 and less than $500,000, according to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

One count Benn pleaded guilty to is for embezzlement from 2004 to 2009 and the second count is for crimes from 2010 to 2012. Two other counts were dismissed as part of the plea deal. Both sides also agreed to a restitution amount of $450,000, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Foster family agencies are licensed by the California Department of Social Services and are required to be nonprofit organizations. The agencies are used to hire, license and oversee foster parents for the placement of foster children. Funding for foster children comes from local, state and federal monies. In Riverside County, the foster care program is administered by the Department of Public Social Services.

In May 2009, the Riverside County Auditor-Controller's Office audited the Department of Public Social Services, including several foster family group homes and foster agencies, one of which was Family Hope.

The audit found that about $1.2 million of payments made to Family Hope by the Department of Public Social Services was "unaccounted for," according to the District Attorney's Office.

The District Attorney's Office started investigating in June 2012 and determined found that from 2004 to 2009, "Family Hope FFA received millions of dollars of public money from DPSS intended for the care of foster children," according to the District Attorney's Office.

Further investigation found Benn had also embezzled from 2010-2012, according to the District Attorney's Office.

— City News Service.

Pat D February 11, 2014 at 11:53 PM
Plea deals? Don't these lawyers and Judges ever do what they are paid for? They are always taking the easy way. There should be a law if they go with a plea deal Lawyers, Judges and the DA do not get paid.
Libi Uremovic February 12, 2014 at 12:19 AM
'...sentenced to three years and four months in prison....restitution amount of $450,000...' ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- does she have $450,000 right now because she's not going to have it when she gets out of the pen....
LBV Collins February 12, 2014 at 08:27 AM
@Pat Dodd: I dunno, Pat. "...sentenced to three years and four months in prison....restitution amount of $450,000..." sounds pretty significant. I suspect the judge and lawyers did their jobs.
ChrisG February 12, 2014 at 09:05 AM
If she embezzled $1.2 million over a five year period just how much money was her company paid? How many children were they placing or caring for?
Artemis Gordon February 12, 2014 at 09:15 AM
Far cry from Father Flanagans Boys Town. This sounds like a modern day, Oliver.
CC February 12, 2014 at 10:25 AM
She will only be in 1 year and 8 months with have time
Larry February 12, 2014 at 11:34 AM
1.2mil over the 5 yrs and more (undisclosed) in the other 2, and less than half has to be paid back. So she still made $150,000/yr for 5yrs. Even if you divide it by 8 (tacking on the 3yrs in prison) she still made $93,750/yr for the 8 yrs! Guess crime DOES pay.
Joseph Morabito February 12, 2014 at 12:21 PM
Cookie Jars are always getting pilfered. It must be a tough thing to resist since it is constantly happening. Oh, and Pat how would it be good for us to waste the money and court time on a trial when she's basically plead guilty... we're being forced to let violent criminals out of jail as it is... she'd be the first to get sprung when we're told to arbitrarily lower the prison population again. There is nothing lamer than wasted efforts just to appease those that need style over substance.
Janise February 12, 2014 at 12:46 PM
3 years is a slap on the wrist. Period. There should have been NO deal! Foster care children are just not cared for enough. Poor children for what ever reason lost their parents and bounce from house to house to guardians who get "Payed" to take care of them,( If )they take care of them. This agency just kept the money. For the children, it's not even about the money- they just want to be loved and nurtured like any other child. Who can they trust?
ChrisG February 12, 2014 at 12:54 PM
Children in foster care have it very rough. It is too bad there are not more religious or other private charity based organizations like our Rancho Damacitas. If you have never heard of them you should check them out. They provide housing and support services for up to 36 children from domestic abuse situations. It is my families primary charity. They are worthy of as much local support as possible. Please check them out. http://4kidsfirst.org/
Brenda February 13, 2014 at 04:15 AM
Its a sad deal and no matter how you cut it she was taking monies meant for those kids. Most times the do need it and bad. They need some clothes and something a bit nicer helps then the are used to so they feel a bit better starting yet another school, get their eyebrows, nails done, have a jacket. There is not much I would deny a foster child especially if they are working the program from their end and dealing with the root of the problem with their parents, family etc. Kids can just run away now and say they do not get along with their parents and get put in foster care and there is nothing you can do about it unfortunately.
RobertaLynn February 13, 2014 at 05:32 PM
Just wondering how she pulled if off? Clothing allowance? Medical? You'd think the foster parent would of known every penny due to that child. After all, "most" of them are in it for the money themselves.
barbara trautwein February 15, 2014 at 06:22 PM
The irony is that when she was arrested she was living on a street in between a former foster kid and several social workers. Sigh
andrea c February 17, 2014 at 06:06 PM
I used to be a foster parent and i know how much those children need and it is a lot not just financially but also lots of love this is just a very sad situation......


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »