Fayette County

Lexington councilwoman Higgins resigns one day after felony indictment

Lexington Councilwoman Sasha Love Higgins.
Lexington Councilwoman Sasha Love Higgins.

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council member Sasha Love Higgins resigned Thursday, one day after she was indicted on multiple felonies stemming from her former job as a manager of a Lexington hotel.

In a statement released Thursday, Higgins said she was “involved in a situation that requires a great deal of my attention. As a result of the distraction that will grow ever greater over the next several weeks, I will be tendering my resignation from the council.”

Higgins also thanked the council and Mayor Jim Gray for the opportunity to work with them over the past several months.

“I wish my successor well and offer any assistance that I can provide in this transition,” Higgins said. “As I am called to do, I will continue my work in the civic arena — with the goal of making our community the best for all. I must devote attention to telling my story and to my family.”

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, confirmed Thursday the city had received Higgins’ resignation. Gray has 30 days to appoint someone to fill Higgins’ unexpired term. That person will serve until December 2018.

A Fayette Circuit Court grand jury indicted Higgins, 34, Tuesday on felony charges of identity theft, forgery and three counts of theft by deception. The indictment was released Wednesday.

Higgins’ resignation is effective immediately, said Alan Stein of the SteinGroup, a spokesman for Higgins. Higgins will not attend Thursday night’s Urban County Council meeting.

She is to be arraigned May 5 and will plead not guilty, said Fred Peters, her attorney.

Speculation about whether Higgins would step down from the council had been swirling since she was charged in February.

Higgins was charged in February with three felonies: second-degree forgery, theft by deception and identity theft, according to police. On Tuesday, the grand jury returned two additional charges of theft by deception. Information about the new charges was not included in the indictment or in court documents.

The February 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 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 the money to pay contract employees, Peters said Wednesday. 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.

Higgins was elected to her first term in November, beating incumbent Shevawn Akers. She represents the 2nd District, which includes Georgetown Street, the Manchester Street corridor and western downtown.

Akers, who served two terms, said Thursday she would accept the appointment if Gray asked her to fill the remainder of Higgins’ term. Akers said many 2nd District constituents have asked her if she would serve.

“I feel a duty to the district and know that I can step in and offer strong representation for the remainder of the term,” Akers said.

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.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall