Brea City Council Member Steve Vargas Found Liable for Embezzling Veterans Money

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Steve Vargas, without the smile.

Brea Councilman Steve Vargas, now without the smile.

[First published on THE BREAN on June 3; republished with some edits — Ed.]

On Wednesday, June 3, Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Leversen found Brea Council Member Steve Vargas liable for embezzling $1,570 from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Brea Post 5384.

THE BREAN broke and has been covering this story.  Click here and here for more.  The Register followed up with a story here, which included an interview with Vargas in which he called the charges part of a “smear campaign” against him.  Apparently not.

On April 20, 2015, VFW Brea Post 5384 filed a lawsuit against Steve Vargas for embezzling 14 checks that were written out to “Brea VFW Post 5384.”  Vargas took these checks and deposited them into his own organization’s bank account, the North Orange County Veterans Club.  After several fruitless attempts to convince Vargas to give them their money back, the Brea VFW filed suit.

Judge Leversen not only awarded the Brea VFW the $1,570 Steve Vargas stole from them, but also ordered Vargas to pay punitive damages for a total award of $5,000. This is the maximum amount of punitive damages a court in this type of case can award by law.

In his opening remarks, Vargas introduced himself to the court as a Brea City Council Member.

According to sources in the courtroom, Mr. Vargas was interrupted by the Judge in the middle of his defense, who asked him, “What don’t you understand about other people’s property and how you can’t just take it?”  Judge Leversen later added, “just because you are part of an organization that does good things for deserving people, doesn’t mean that you can take other people’s money.”

Judge Leversen also quipped in the middle of Vargas’s defense, “I’m glad my check wasn’t in there,” referring to the 14 checks that Vargas embezzled from the VFW.

In the middle of the Judge’s final ruling,  Vargas interrupted and asked him why he was awarding $5,000 instead of just the $1,570 that he stole. Judge Leversen replied, “because you committed multiple felonies — and there are penalties for that.”

This raises the question: how much longer will Breans tolerate having a person with this sort of record on their city council?

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)