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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.

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......

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