SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - A longtime Marin Country resident, accused of a million dollar embezzlement, has been arrested in New York City.
San Rafael police investigators called Shelly Breshears, 53, a con artist who has "crushed" every business she's come in contact with.
Breshears is scheduled to be extradited to the Bay Area next Tuesday to face felony charges. Breshears has been in custody at Rikers Island jail since U.S. Marshals apprehended her at her apartment Nov. 4.
"I am hopeful that justice will be done, that she won't be able to run and hide and steal from somebody else," said Ellen Dodge, co-founder of Plushy Feely Corp, based in San Rafael.
Breshears worked for the educational toy company for about 18 months, and was allegedly stealing from from it almost the entire time.
"There were no guns in this crime, but it was traumatic," said Dodge, who had to sell her home to keep the company afloat.
Plushy Feely developed stuffed toys called Kimochis, which means "feelings" in Japanese.
The characters have different personalities, with pockets to hold feelings such as sad, mad, or scared.
Teachers and therapists use the plush tools to help children identify and manage their emotions.
"Our company is about feelings, to help people with trauma and we went through this trauma," said Dodge, who showed KTVU photos of Breshears at company gatherings, smiling and never letting on that anything was amiss. "We were like a family, working so hard, helping kids learn how to communicate feelings."
Then calls started coming in from banks, customers, the manufacturing plant.
There was no money and no kimochis, and Breshears, in charge of finances, could not explain why.
"She said the kimochis were held up in customs, then she said they were contaminated with mold," recalled Dodge, "and nobody thought she was a criminal because she appears very calm, very competent and very caring."
An audit found money funneled into ten accounts, plus fraudulent credit cards and bank loans, but as the loss topped $1 million, Breshears vanished.
That was in 2017, and the investigation languished until about ten months ago, when San Rafael PD renewed efforts to track her down.
"She is obviously very good at adapting," said Detective Kevin Mac Dougald, who finally zeroed in on Breshears, living in New York City, and using the identity of a former roomate.
Mac Dougald learned that Breshears left Marin County for Pleasanton, and did bookeeping for a painting contractor until losses exceeding $100,000 were discovered.
Then it appears she moved to Manhattan and found work with a property management company.
At the urging of police, that company searched its records, only to find $40,000 missing.
"Her current employer told me they had absolutely no clue she might be stealing anything, they had no warning signs and they were blindsided by this," said Mac Dougald.
Embezzlement, San Rafael Police Lt. Dan Fink said, is more destructive than it appears.
"These financial crimes are devastating for people, it can take them years to recover from something like this," he said.
Toy maker Dodge says her company survived because no one took a paycheck, and their customers stood by them.
"I am proud that we didn't let her take our mission," said Dodge, who now works from home, unable to afford office space. "Kimochis still teach the things we had to live through ourselves, how to be resilient in troubled times."
Looking back, Dodge regrets being so trusting, and wishes she had recognized red flags.
Breshears had an opulent lifestyle, luxury cars and designer clothing, but maintained that she had a wealthy family.
"We used to call her "Fancy,"with no idea that we were paying for it," said Dodge.
Company finances are more tightly monitored now, and Dodge encourages other small firms to be vigilant too.
She is not optimistic about restitution but would like to see Breshears serve significant prison time if convicted.
"I hope she won't be allowed to run before she is tried," said Dodge, "because she will do it again, and I don't know who that next person is going to be."