Former Surprise employee who stole $836K from city gets 1 year in jail

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PHOENIX (AP) — A former Surprise revenue manager was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to repay $836,000 she stole from the city.

Authorities said Estella Sanchez also was sentenced Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court to at least five years’ probation and 40 hours of community service.

Ms. Sanchez worked about 17 years for the city before she was fired in March 2014 after an internal auditor noticed a discrepancy.

A county grand jury indicted Ms. Sanchez in April 2016 on suspicion of theft, fraud and custodial violations of public money.

Surprise officials said the city has since changed the way it handles money, implementing internal controls and security measures.

Years of stealing from Surprise

Back in 2016, the city of Surprise sent out a release of the indictments against Ms. Sanchez. She had apparently been stealing city funds over a seven-year period.

The city stated it was able to recover $836,000 via insurance.

In her 17 years, Ms. Sanchez held a variety of positions within the finance department and eventually rose up the ranks to become a revenue manager, overseeing cash handling responsibilities.

Following a routine internal audit into cash handling practices, a discrepancy was discovered in the petty cash count.

On Feb. 27, 2014, an internal auditor questioned her about the discrepancy. She was placed on immediate administrative leave as the internal investigation continued.

Officials looked into cash handling discrepancies going back to the year 2007.

She was accused of improperly handling checks written to the city and taking the cash equivalent of those checks out of petty cash for her own use before delivering the checks to the bank for deposit.

Improved internal controls since the discovery

According to the city’s release, Surprise has adopted the following measures to ensure proper process for handling city money:

  • Increased the number of staff that are responsible for overseeing and reconciling city money and checks to ensure each task in the handling, recording, and reconciling of cash is conducted by a different person
  • Reduced the number of city cash handling sites and reduced the amount of cash and checks handled at those locations
  • Instituted comprehensive cash handling procedures
  • Updated procedures to include the regular review of separate software systems to ensure the financial data matches between those systems
  • Created an Internal Audit Committee, comprised of two Council Members, three community stakeholders, and two department directors.
  • Drafted an internal audit charter, the Audit Committee charter, and numerous audit procedures conducive to continued improvement and the development of best practices.


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