A former finance worker at the county's mosquito control district admitted helping her supervisor steal more than $400,000 in taxpayer dollars from the agency, some of which was used to pay the other woman's legal bill in an earlier and unrelated embezzlement from an employer.
Vika Sinipata, 36, pleaded no contest to 12 felonies including four counts each of theft of government funds, embezzlement and alteration of public records. She also admitted the excessive taking allegation which means she embezzled more than $50,000.
Sinipata accepted the negotiated plea deal without any promises when sentenced and faces up to eight years in prison, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Meanwhile, co-defendant Joanne Seeney, 61, will begin trial April 29 which is the same day Sinipata's sentencing date will be scheduled.
Wagstaffe said it made sense to settle the case because Seeney pleaded no contest to nearly all counts without benefit of a plea bargain.
"How do we say no?" he asked.
Seeney, working under the name Jo Ann Dearman, was the finance director at the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District. Sinipata served as an accounting supervisor and bookkeeper assistant. Prosecutors allege the pair embezzled the funds between 2009 and 2011 by giving themselves extra pay at a higher pay rate and fraudulent time off, excessively contributed to their deferred compensation funds, used credit cards for personal purchases and electronically transferred money into their own accounts. An audit showed more than $635,000 missing but prosecutors only charged them with stealing approximately $450,000 because they could not prove an actual loss of the greater amount.
Sinipata is not required to testify against Seeney as part of the plea deal but her participation may play a role in how much prison time she receives, Wagstaffe said.
Sinipata is just as legally responsible for the embezzlement as Seeney but "on a practical level, her involvement is less serious only because Seeney was in a position of power," Wagstaffe said.
The charges against Seeney and Sinipata raised questions about the district's oversight and operations, particularly because at the time Seeney had one embezzlement conviction on her record and was being prosecuted for a second.
According to a now-retired operations director at the district, Seeney charged defense attorneys fees for that case to the district and at one point took medical leave, claiming she needed to care for her mother but in actuality served two years and eight months in prison for the two different embezzlement cases. In one case, Seeney ran up more than a half-million dollars on her boss' credit card.
The alleged embezzlement came to light after a board member appointed by the city of San Carlos questioned the balance in a pesticide account.
A board overseeing the county's special districts considered dissolving the mosquito agency and handing its functions back to San Mateo County but ultimately voted against doing so.
Sinipata remains in custody in lieu of $150,000. Seeney was allowed to post $250,000 bail after proving the money was not the product of either that alleged crime or previous thefts for which she was imprisoned.
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