SACRAMENTO, CA - A former Sacramento mayor's city council operations manager was arrested Tuesday in connection to using public money for personal use.
Belisa Serna-Mayorga was accused of using a city credit card for personal use - like trips to Disneyland, makeup, restaurants, clothes, iTunes games, music and groceries - from June 2009 to June 2012, Sacramento County District Attorney's Office spokesperson Shelly Orio said.
The Sacramento Police Department said it began its investigation into Serna-Mayorga in August 2012 at the request of Sacramento City Manager John Shirey.
An internal audit in June 2012 foundSerna-Mayorga did not file the proper paperwork for charges totaling more than $19,000 on the city credit card. She then admittedthose charges were for personal use, Orio said.
The investigation also foundSerna-Mayorga wrote $9,000 in checksto the city as restitution, but called her bank to put a stop payment on the checks. According to Orio, on June 28, Serna-Mayorga wrote two checks equal to $3,029.17. Then on July 18 shewrote another check for $6,000. Investigators found that Serna-Mayorga didn't have the money to pay back the city anyway, Orio said.
Also, Serna-Mayorga is accused of forging accounting documents. Orio said the documents she turned in to justify her purchases had a forged signature of the mayor's chief of staff, Kunal Merchant.
Sacramento police said Serna-Mayorga was arrested around 4 p.m. on the 5800 block of 14th Avenue. Police said she was cooperative andtaken into custody without incident.
Serna-Mayorga was booked into Sacramento County Jail for misappropriation of public funds, theft of public funds, forgery and making or drawing worthless checks. She posted $50,000 bail and was released.
City Council Reacts to arrest
Serna-Mayorga's arrest prompted city leaders to reassure the public that this was an isolated incident;they saidnew policies are in place to prevent similar crimes from happening in the future.
Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Cohn chairs the council audit committee. He said he worries the incident could shake the public trust in city officials, but he hopes the arrest sends a powerful message.
"No matter how high up you are in high places, the law is the same for everyone, and we will not tolerate people who will abuse the public trust," Cohn said.
A recent audit of citywide credit card use identified several problems with the current system and made more than a dozen recommendations.
"We are as a result of this audit, as I indicated, going to be making some changes, among those already made are reducing the number of people who have credit cards," Cohn said.
Additional recommendations for new internal controls include surprise audits and expanded oversight of transactions.
The full city council is set to review the findings of that audit report in January when they could vote to approve the new recommendations.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson released the following statement Tuesday night:
"As I said when this issue came to light last summer, I am saddened by this news. The City moved swiftly to investigate and also conducted an audit of credit card use citywide. As charges have been filed, it would be inappropriate for me or my office to comment on any of the details. As the judicial process takes its course, our thoughts are with her family."