Senior center reveals allegations of embezzlement

A former Costa Mesa Senior Center employee was arrested in June on suspicion of embezzlement, police have confirmed.

Erika Sepulveda, 32, was arrested last month by Costa Mesa police on suspicion of grand theft by embezzlement related to her employment at the financially struggling center, said Sgt. Stephanie Selinski.

Senior Center board member Ernie Feeney said management told the board that $25,000 went missing over a two-year period. Police would not confirm an amount.

Sepulveda was convicted in 2008 of a similar charge related to her work for the city of Santa Ana, according to court records. A city representative confirmed Sepulveda had worked for the city-run senior center.

The possibility of embezzlement was brought up Friday at a special meeting of the senior center board.

Sepulveda worked at the West 19th Street facility in Costa Mesa for several years, starting as a Community SeniorServ employee in charge of the lunch program.

She then became center coordinator and was given the responsibility of running day-to-day operations at the facility.

"She was pleasant and helpful," said former board member Feeney. "The seniors adored her."

However, in March 2013, after finding that a large sum of money could not be accounted for, senior center Executive Director Aviva Goelman said she filed a report with the Costa Mesa Police Department.

Goelman confirmed that Sepulveda no longer works at the center but declined to elaborate.

Sepulveda did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Though Sepulveda was arrested in June, charges have not been filed, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

Costa Mesa police are continuing to investigate and have declined to release additional information.

Before working at the Costa Mesa Senior Center, Sepulveda was employed at the city-run senior center in Santa Ana — a job that also ended amid allegations of embezzlement.

She pleaded guilty in September 2008 to two misdemeanor charges of embezzlement connected to her time as the Santa Ana center coordinator, according to court records.

In October 2007, court records indicate, she stole less than $400 from the Santa Ana center. In June 2007, she committed grand theft by embezzlement for an undisclosed amount, according to court records.

Though the Costa Mesa center checked Sepulveda's references, it did not perform a criminal background check before she was hired, Goelman said.

"We called her former employers," she said. "Unfortunately, we did not fingerprint her."

News of the alleged embezzlement comes as City Hall is working to take control of the financially ailing center.

An audit of the senior center in December brought several organizational and financial issues to light. The audit projected that the center, which operated largely autonomously but received some financial assistance from the city, would be out of money by June 2014.

However, the board's finance committee had warned about the center's financial turmoil for years before the audit. Goelman and several board members have said a lack of fundraising is responsible for the center's downfall.

Although the board was aware of the embezzlement allegations, it hadn't received an update in several months, board members said.

Feeney inquired about the possibility of stolen funds during a public comment period at Friday's meeting.

In preparation for the city's takeover, Goelman oversaw the hiring of a paper shredder to dispose of old documents related to the center. This concerned Feeney.

Feeney suggested holding off on shredding any financial documents related to the alleged embezzlement.

Goelman said she is only shredding documents that are more than 7 years old.

"I want to make sure that no documents will be shred until the Police Department completes their investigation," she said.

It was unclear whether the senior center's insurance company reimbursed the organization for its losses.


Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World