Urban County councilwoman Sasha Love Higgins was indicted Tuesday on multiple theft and other felony charges stemming from her former position as the general manager of a Lexington hotel.
A Fayette Circuit grand jury indicted Higgins, 34, on felony charges of identity theft, forgery and three counts of theft by deception.
Higgins is to be arraigned May 5 and will plead not guilty, said Fred Peters, her attorney. Peters also said Higgins will probably step down from the council.
“It’s not an admission of guilt,” Peters said of Higgins’ resignation. “Now that she has been indicted, we want to respect the work of the council and don’t want this to be a distraction.”
Peters said Higgins hasn’t yet decided when she will resign.
Peters said his client maintains that the money she is accused of taking from the hotel was used to pay contract housekeeping and other employees who were needed to help clean rooms and do other work at the Hampton Inn in Beaumont.
Higgins was elected to her first term in November. She represents the 2nd District, which includes Georgetown Street, the Manchester Street corridor and western downtown. .
Higgins was charged in February with three felonies: second-degree forgery, theft by deception and identity theft, according to police. The grand jury returned two additional charges of theft by deception.
The February charges stemmed from Higgins cashing 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 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 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 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.
Higgins used that money to pay contract employees, Peters said. He 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.
“There was no intent to deprive anyone,” he said.
Calls to Pillar Hotels and Resorts corporate headquarters in Texas were not immediately returned.
The indictment doesn’t give specifics about the additional two charges —theft by deception. Peters said he thinks those charges stem from each time the payroll checks in Manning’s name were cashed.
Fayette Commonwealth Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said she could not provide more details about the two additional charges. There was no additional information in the case file.
Red Corn said the charges stemmed from testimony and information provided by Lexington police and Pillar Hotel staff.
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.
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 with a crime not related to their official duties. Higgins has missed few council meetings since she was charged in February.