Former Lexington Urban County Councilwoman Sasha Love Higgins pleaded not guilty Friday to five felony charges stemming from her former job as manager of a Lexington hotel.
Higgins, 34, entered the not guilty plea in Fayette Circuit Court. Her next court appearance is scheduled for May 25.
Higgins originally was charged in February with three felonies: second-degree forgery, theft by deception and identity theft. The investigation began with a report of identity theft in early January. On April 25, Higgins was charged with five felonies, including two additional charges of theft by deception.
Higgins, who was elected in November, resigned from the council April 27, the day after the indictment was released. Mayor Jim Gray has 30 days to name her replacement. Higgins represents the 2nd District, which includes Georgetown Street, Leestown Road and the Manchester Street corridors.
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The charges stemmed from allegations that Higgins cashed payroll checks of a former employee.
Higgins was the general manager at a Hampton Inn in Lexington when Richard Manning, the husband of former hotel employee Maricela Gomez de Manning, filed a fraud complaint, according to court documents. The two had discovered that seven paychecks had been issued in the name of Maricela Gomez de Manning after her last day of work, last July.
Richard Manning then called Higgins, according to court documents. During the call, Higgins reportedly admitted to using the payroll account. Manning recorded the call and turned it over to police.
Pillar Hotels and Resorts, the parent company of the local Hampton Inn, confirmed in January that seven paychecks had been issued in Maricela Gomez de Manning’s name after she left the company, according to court documents. The gross amount of the seven checks was $5,709.88, which totaled $4,226.33 after taxes. The hotel also documented that the work time in the payroll system for the checks was entered by Higgins.
Higgins is accused of emailing the hotel’s corporate human resources department and asking that the money from the paychecks be directed into a MetaBank account, and then using the money from that account for her benefit, according to court documents. Attached to the email was a form with Maricela Gomez de Manning’s forged signature. Her name was misspelled on that form, court documents said.
Records showed that $4,226 had been deposited in the MetaBank account, but only $1.50 remained.
The police department received video and photos of the person receiving the money, and that person was later identified as Higgins, according to the complaint.
Her attorney, Fred Peters, said last week that Higgins used the money to pay contract employees. Peters said some of those contract employees who were paid with the $4,226 have agreed to testify for Higgins.
The Hampton Inn had a guarantee that rooms would be cleaned by noon or the room was free. Yet turnover in housekeeping was high. To meet that noon deadline, Higgins often hired contract employees, Peters said.
Information about the two additional theft charges has not been released.