A former employee of the Santa Barbara Police Department in charge of processing parking tickets admitted Monday morning to stealing more than half a million dollars in fees over a seven-year period. In doing so, Karen Flores now faces up to 14 years and four years in state prison, with the potential of two additional years in County Jail.
Flores, who had been the SBPD’s business office supervisor for 15 years, was ironically part of a team that tried to pinpoint and solve a number of discrepancies discovered in the agency’s bookkeeping, Deputy Police Chief Frank Mannix said at the time Flores was arrested in August 2011. “The very person we relied upon the most to assist us in this investigation turned out to be our suspect,” Mannix said. Flores was arrested after a seven-month investigation.
Authorities found destroyed tickets during their searches, according to prosecutor Brian Cota, but Flores tried to argue away some of the missing money by claiming the department’s tracking system was inaccurate. “She felt she was always smart enough to answer their questions in a way that she could continue the thefts,” Cota said after the hearing.
According to Cota, authorities conducted a full forensic audit of Flores’s bank account, but she didn’t put all of the money she stole into that account, so they were unable to trace the entirety of the missing funds. She didn’t live an overly extravagant lifestyle but did live a bit beyond her means, Cota went on, with boat and car payments and dining out. “Everything was just a little better because there was a little bit more money around,” Cota said.
The city’s estimated loss was $609,000 plus $75,000 in investigative costs. Dan Murphy, attorney for Flores, claimed the total was significantly lower, however.
Flores pleaded no contest to all 11 charges against her — one count of grand theft by embezzlement, one count of theft of public funds by a public officer, four misdemeanor counts of destroying parking citations, and five counts of filing false income tax forms. As part of her plea, Flores forfeited the retirement benefits she earned during the period she was embezzling. Judge George Eskin, according to deputy district attorney Cota, would have to find unusual circumstances to not send Flores to state prison. “She very much wants to get this over with,” Murphy said.
Flores will be sentenced August 26, at which time city employees are expected to testify about the impact the financial loss has had on the department. Chief Cam Sanchez said in a brief email Monday afternoon that his department was doing well despite the theft, and called Flores’s case “disappointing and sad.”
More than 30 people wrote letters to Eskin on behalf of Flores, the judge said in court Monday, but he was interested in what Flores might have to say. “I would like to hear from her what her conduct over this extended period means to her and what it should mean to the court in terms of fashioning a sentence,” Eskin said. “It’s really hard for me to accept the repeated assertion by [supporters of Flores] that Karen made a mistake. Day after day after day after day after day, Karen made a mistake.” Her actions had a “profound effect,” the judge said. He did say that the admission Monday “indicates to me she has accepted responsibility and is prepared to accept a sentence by me.”
Eskin declined to place Flores into custody Monday, despite a request from Cota to do so.