Urban County Councilwoman Sasha Love Higgins pleaded not guilty Tuesday to theft and other felony charges stemming from an alleged scam to cash more than $5,000 in paychecks of a former employee.
Higgins was charged Feb. 8 with three felonies: second-degree forgery, theft by deception and identity theft. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison. Higgins made her first court appearance Tuesday for an arraignment in Fayette County District Court.
William Davis, Higgins’ attorney, has said his client will fight the charges and asked for a preliminary hearing, where evidence must be given to support the charges. The preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 9.
Higgins has not spoken publicly about the allegations but has attended council meetings since she was charged in early February. Higgins left the courthouse Tuesday without speaking to media.
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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 her name after her last day of work in July 2016.
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 Lexington police.
Pillar Hotels and Resorts, the parent company of 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, 34, is accused of emailing the hotel’s corporate human resources office and asking that money from the paychecks be directed into a MetaBank account, 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.
Police obtained video and photos that showed a black woman, later identified as Higgins, receiving the money, the complaint said.
Hampton Inn officials have said they can’t comment on the case, while the investigation is open.
Higgins upset incumbent Shevawn Akers in the November election for the council seat representing the 2nd District. That district includes the Leestown Road and Georgetown Road areas. Higgins had never held public office before being elected in November. The race is nonpartisan, but Higgins is registered as a Republican and had the support of many statewide Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton. Hampton attended the Urban County Council’s swearing-in in December.
Higgins can remain on the council while the charges are pending. A council committee is rewriting the ethics ordinance, which currently doesn’t address what happens to city officials if they are charged while in office and the charges aren’t related to their elected office.
Higgins is the first sitting city council member in recent memory to be charged with felonies. The last was Edgar Wallace, who was convicted of two misdemeanor drug-related charges in April 1984 but originally was charged with a felony.
Wallace served out his council term even after he was convicted.
According to Higgins’ Facebook page, she is hosting a town hall March 28 for 2nd District residents on crime and public safety. Topics will include resident concerns on “auto break-ins, home invasions and auto thefts.”