Former California city employee pleads guilty to embezzling over $600,000
A former employee of the Glendale, Calif. City Attorney’s office has agreed to plead guilty to embezzling nearly $610,000 in taxpayer dollars over a 17-year period.
Cassandra Alexander, who resided in the Winnetka neighborhood of Los Angeles, was charged with one count of theft from an organization receiving federal funds, MyNewsLA reports. A plea agreement was reached later that day.
“With the fact that the plea agreement also includes restitution, [Glendale] will be able to be made whole and get the people’s money back,” city spokesman Tom Lorenz told the Glendale News-Press.
As part of her job as claims and litigation support supervisor, Alexander assembled “settlement packets,” which were used to settle personal injury and property damage claims against the city, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
These packets contained settlement approval from a member of the city council and the city attorney’s office and gave authorization for the city’s attorney office to send out a check to the claimant. Alexander was also responsible for picking up the checks and giving them to claimants’ attorneys, per MyNewsLA.
With unlimited authority to direct the city’s finance department to issue checks, Alexander created and submitted fraudulent settlement packets that made the finance department create 30 checks for her family and acquaintances, MyNewsLA reports. The fraudulent claimants would then cash the checks and send the money to her, per the plea agreement.
The prosecution team also claimed that Alexander faked council meeting minutes to better legitimize the fraudulent checks, the News-Press reports.
"The security of public funds and, more importantly, the public’s trust is paramount. There is nothing more that destroys this than an employee's unlawful actions,” Glendale Mayor Vartan Gharpelian said in a city news release.
City staff had reported a disparity in the settlement of a damages claim in March 2017, a Glendale news release notes. Glendale investigators subsequently seized and cancelled an $82,500 check Alexander had issued to a relative, per the News-Press and the Glendale news release. The city subsequently suspended Alexander four days later, and Alexander resigned just over a month later, per the news release.
The city ultimately turned the investigation over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “because the federal penalties are generally more severe,” the city news release notes. Alexander faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, the News-Press reports.
“The City of Glendale is fortunate to have partnerships with our federal agencies. Our city staff and police department worked closely with the US Attorney’s Office, as well as agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to ensure that justice was served, and Ms. Alexander was held accountable for her actions,” Gharpelian said in the news release.