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Investigators Still Can’t Put Final Figure on Alleged Santa Barbara Police Department Embezzlement

Charged with $100,000 theft, longtime SBPD business manager due in court Monday

Investigators are still working to determine just how much money a former business office supervisor allegedly embezzled from the Santa Barbara Police Department.

Karen Flores
Karen Flores

Authorities say Karen Flores, a 22-year civilian employee of SBPD’s business department, admitted to taking $100,000 at the time of her Aug. 5 arrest, which followed a seven-month investigation. Search warrant documents show she could be suspected of taking more than $700,000, however.

After being held on $250,000 bail, Flores was released on her own recognizance Tuesday since she is not considered a flight risk or a danger to the community, Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota said. Flores has no criminal past, has lived in Santa Barbara for decades and has a family in town, so it’s not surprising she was released from jail, he added.

As conditions of her release, she is prohibited from holding a job that handles financial transactions, accessing California Public Employee Retirement System pension or benefits without prior court approval, contacting SBPD employees directly or through a third party, changing her residence or leaving the county.

Her next hearing is scheduled for Monday in Superior Court.

Flores has been charged with grand theft by embezzlement with enhancements of being more than $65,000, which could add a year to a sentence if convicted, and being more than $100,000, which can make someone presumptively ineligible for probation. She also faces four counts of destroying parking citations. District Attorney’s Office investigators are trying to find out more details as quickly as possible, but for now Cota said $100,000 is the amount he’s comfortable alleging.

Deputy Police Chief Frank Mannix said last week that the city’s Finance Department noticed a discrepancy in parking citation funds and contacted police. A team of investigators ruled out several possible scenarios and determined that embezzlement could be the only plausible cause. Mannix said they eventually found evidence that pointed to Flores.

When asked about first discovering the alleged actions of the longtime administrator, Mannix said “we were all shocked.” But he added that the investigation was completed because of the integrity of the officers involved. The department had already implemented some procedural changes during the investigation and is continuing to evaluate its process, he said.

There are a lot of records to pour through to determine how much money Flores allegedly took and how long the apparent thefts went on, city Finance Director Bob Samario said. In his 15 years with the city, he said he hasn’t known an employee to be found embezzling.

Samario said he was unsure if the funds in question include parking citations and street sweeping citations.

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, there were enough reserves in the street sweeping fund to help balance the budget, since revenues from parking citations had been exceeding costs for several years. Parking citation prices were raised recently to $41 in 2007 and $48 in late 2010, which double if paid late.

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows the number of parking citations and street sweeping citations dropped between 2006 and 2009, supposedly from an increase in fees and the ability to pay the fine online and avoid the late charge.

In 2009, police issued 54,692 parking citations and 30,184 street sweeping citations.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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