Former Morgan Hill Downtown Association Executive Director Jorge Briones appeared at South County Courthouse Friday for a plea hearing on charges that he embezzled the nonprofit organization’s revenues, but attorneys agreed they needed a few more days to review the case files.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome Nadler continued the hearing to May 2, at the Morgan Hill courthouse. Briones, 47 of Morgan Hill, did not enter a plea at Friday’s hearing.
Briones was charged in December 2012 with grand theft and embezzlement. Authorities say he stole money from the MHDA while he was the executive director, by writing checks to himself from the organization’s account and trying to cover it up.
Before the brief proceeding was over Friday, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Judy Lee said the prosecutor’s office and Briones’ attorney were “close to a resolution” on the case, but she did not elaborate.
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Briones’ attorney Arthur Cantu said it’s “too early” to comment on the substance or validity of the charges.
“We’re working things out with the prosecution,” Cantu said.
Briones, who is out of custody, declined to comment. He attempted to avoid Times staff by turning his back to them outside the courthouse. In the courtroom during the hearing, Briones held his head down while a photographer took pictures of him.
Briones is currently the owner of 9Lives club in downtown Gilroy.
He was the executive director of the MHDA from 2007 to 2011, and police think his alleged scheme was in progress for at least two of those years.
After a year-long investigation, Morgan Hill Police found that Briones had been writing checks to himself funded by revenues from the MHDA, police said. He allegedly tried to cover up his actions by claiming the checks were written to vendors who supplied goods and services to the MHDA, and for other work-related expenses.
Examples of those falsified expenses include a check to himself for $3,329 which he listed in the MHDA’s accounting system as reimbursement for candy for the downtown “Safe Trick or Treat” event one year, and a check for $2,921 which he entered as reimbursement for money he paid to Pacific Displays for supplies for the association, according to police reports.
Briones allegedly wrote about 50 checks to himself in this way, authorities said. All together, the checks added up to more than $29,000 embezzled from the nonprofit organization.
The MHDA is a nonprofit organization that promotes downtown Morgan Hill for economic development and tourism purposes. It hosts several events and series of events annually, including the Downtown Wine Stroll and the summer time Thursday street dance concert series on Third Street.
The MHDA is funded by annual membership dues, revenue from events it sponsors, fundraising efforts and – formerly – the Morgan Hill RDA before that agency was dissolved by state law earlier this year.
After the MHDA board of directors eliminated Briones’ executive director’s position in 2011 - when the organization was struggling financially, reportedly for reasons unrelated to the alleged embezzlement - he opened up the 9Lives music club in downtown Gilroy.