Steven Kunes, the former Montecito resident and Hollywood screenwriter-turned-conman, pleaded guilty last week to passing bad checks and stealing from a onetime friend. As part of a deal struck with prosecutors, Kunes will be sentenced to five years behind bars unless he makes restitution to his victims, in which case he’ll be given a four-year term.
Kunes admitted to creating fake checks on his computer – totaling $6,848 – and depositing them at Montecito Bank & Trust. Though he was able to withdraw the funds, the bank eventually caught wind of the caper and alerted authorities. Kunes, who’s served two prior prison terms for similar crimes, also said he indeed convinced his friend, former Cafe Buenos Aires owner Wally Ronchietto, to give him $2,600 for a made-up movie deal. The official charges levied against Kunes in the two cases were felony commercial burglary and felony grand theft by false pretenses.
He’s slated to be sentenced by Judge Clifford Anderson on February 1. In the meantime, Kunes will remain in custody, explained prosecutor Brian Cota, who also said that because of AB 109 – which changed the guidelines for inmate placement in state prisons and county jails – he will serve his time in Santa Barbara County Jail. He’ll likely be released early due to lack of space at the overcrowded facility, Cota went on. The restitution money, should it materialize, will reportedly come from one of Kunes’s family members.
Kunes tried to avoid prosecution by skipping his court dates in August and fleeing to New Jersey with his girlfriend. After his last no-show, a judge issued a $200,000 bench warrant for his arrest. New Jersey police were alerted to his presence and arrested him in September.
Upon Kunes’s original arrest last March, it was discovered that many of the unsolicited commentaries he submitted to various publications around town — Santa Barbara News-Press, Noozhawk, and The Independent — had been largely plagiarized. The newspapers have since removed his writings from their websites.