A former Lexington councilwoman pleaded guilty Friday to two felonies and three misdemeanors and could face up to two years in prison for cashing bogus payroll checks.
Sasha Love Higgins, who resigned earlier this year from the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council, pleaded guilty Friday in Fayette Circuit Court to one count of identity theft and one count of theft of services less than $10,000. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Higgins also pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges related to her former job as a Lexington hotel manager.
Fred Peters, Higgins lawyer, said the Fayette commonwealth’s attorney’s office recommended that Higgins serve two years as part of the plea agreement. Higgins, 34, is to be sentenced Oct. 5.
“She was extremely remorseful and cried throughout today’s hearing,” Peters said. “She has since (the indictment) moved out of state.”
Higgins admitted in court that she cashed bogus checks written to a former hotel employee to pay for contract housekeeping help at the Hampton Inn in Beaumont, where Higgins was a manager. In addition to the prison sentence, Higgins will be required to pay restitution. The amount has not been determined, Peters said.
Higgins was originally charged with five felonies and could have faced up to 25 years in prison.
Higgins was elected in November to represent the 2nd District, which includes the Georgetown and Leestown road corridors. She stepped down from the council in April after a Fayette Circuit grand jury indicted her on charges of theft, forgery and three counts of theft by deception. Higgins, who hadn’t held political office before November, has no previous criminal record.
Higgins was 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 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 withdrawing the money, and that person was later identified as Higgins, according to the complaint.