Federal courthouse
Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A former bookkeeper for a San Diego lighting company pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Tuesday for writing himself more than $183,000 in company checks.

Arthur Jason “AJ” Morales, 42, of Pahrump, Nevada, admitted that he issued himself 28 unauthorized checks, some of which contained forged signatures of the unnamed company’s managers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors say that over the course of seven months, he wired $183,408.02 to his personal bank account. The checks were issued to his personal business — “AJ’s Tax & Bookkeeping Service” — then deposited into his account.

Prosecutors say Morales hid the payments by manipulating company accounting records to make it appear as though the checks were issued for legitimate business expenses to third-party vendors.

The company caught wind of the fraud in 2016 when it was discovered that Morales issued a $16,274 check to his personal business, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Sentencing is slated for June 7.

“The impact of fraud on small businesses can be devastating,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “This defendant abused his position of trust to enrich himself, and he has been held to account for his crime.”