The longtime supervisor of the Santa Barbara Police Department’s business office was arrested Friday morning for allegedly embezzling at least $100,000 in parking citation funds. Karen Flores, a non-sworn member of the SBPD for 22 years, is accused of grand theft and sits in jail with her bail set at $250,000.
Deputy Police Chief Frank Mannix explained during a press conference Friday afternoon that discrepancies in the city’s ledger sparked a seven-month investigation which concluded that Flores was diverting parking citation revenue into her private bank account. “We were all shocked,” said Mannix. The announcement comes at a time when the department is already defending itself against suggestions that one of its officers fudged paperwork during DUI arrests.
Mannix said Flores confessed to taking $100,000 over a period of four to five years, but believes “the losses are much greater.” The exact amount is still being determined and authorities think that only parking ticket cash was taken, and that Flores acted alone. The DA’s office has yet to determine the exact charges it will file.
Flores is expected to appear in court this Tuesday and has been placed on unpaid administrative leave. According to her Facebook page, she graduated with an accounting degree from Santa Barbara City College, is married, and lives in Santa Ynez.
Before Flores was suspected of the grand theft embezzlement, though, she was on the original investigative team trying to determine the source of the bookkeeping discrepancies. Flores had been the business officer supervisor for 15 years, and knew the parking citation revenue system — which is more complicated than people realize, said Mannix — better than anyone else. “The very person we relied upon the most to assist us in this investigation turned out to be our suspect,” Mannix said.
“While she was part of the investigative team in the beginning, we were aware and attuned to the potential of embezzlement,” Mannix went on. “This was part of the process of closing out the accountability loopholes and exposing the guilty party, while still protecting the reputation of the innocent people who were legitimately doing their job.”
Flores, Mannix explained, was adept at covering her tracks, changing her methodologies over time and figuring out new ways work around the system, which was being checked and double-checked by authorities as they ruled out computer and accounting errors. A number of agencies were involved in the effort, including the DA’s office, the city finance department, and city and police information technology units.
Mannix wouldn’t go into detail of how exactly Flores committed her alleged crime, citing the ongoing investigation, but did say authorities have solid physical evidence implicating their suspect. The police department nets approximately $4.5 million in proceeds from parking tickets each year, and has purportedly implemented procedural changes in how it processes citation money.
During the press conference, police representatives were quick to distance the department from Flores. “Every single member of our department is proud of the job that we do and the mission that we serve,” Mannix said. “When someone has betrayed that trust, any sympathy for that person goes away.”
City Administrator Jim Armstrong said while it’s impossible to guarantee that all city employees are honest, safeguards are in place to prevent criminal activity. In light of Fridays announcement, however, those efforts will be doubled, Armstrong explained.
City Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss said he attended the press conference to show that he’s “1,000 percent” behind the police department. “I was shocked like everyone else,” said Hotchkiss upon learning of Flores’s arrest.
He also said he wanted to make clear that this investigation is totally separate from the accusations of misconduct that investigative journalist Peter Lance and the News-Press have lobbed at the police department and its personnel in recent weeks. Flores’s alleged crimes are not representative of the department as a whole, Hotchkiss said.