A former Lexington councilwoman was sentenced Thursday to 21 days in jail and three years of probation after admitting to cashing bogus paychecks.
Sasha Love Higgins, 34, will also likely have to repay more than $13,000 to her former employer under the sentence issued by Fayette Circuit Court Judge Ernesto Scorsone. Higgins pleaded guilty in August to two felony and three misdemeanor charges stemming from her former job as an employee of a Lexington hotel.
Higgins resigned from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council in April, the day after she was indicted. She has since moved to Florida, according to her attorney, Fred Peters.
Higgins has said she used much of the proceeds from the bogus paychecks to pay undocumented employees who worked in housekeeping at the Hampton Inn in Beaumont.
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“She did it for a good purpose but she went about it the wrong way,” Peters said of the charges during Thursday’s hearing.
But Higgins also charged her former employer — Pillar Hotels and Resorts — for a membership at a local club, said Peters. “She took advantage of a lack of supervision.”
Higgins apologized in court Thursday and said she was “so obsessed with being perfect” and balancing her various jobs that “I made horrible decisions trying to stay afloat, trying to keep my jobs and trying to make it all work.”
Scorsone said Higgins’ transgressions took place at work and were not connected to her elected office. Higgins has no prior criminal record and more than 20 people wrote letters to the court supporting her.
He said the sentence given Higgins is similar to sentences in other cases involving employee theft. Scorsone will decide in coming weeks exactly how much money Higgins must repay.
Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said Higgins “violated the trust of an employer” and an employee. “That was very problematic for this family.”
Higgins was accused of using the names of former employees to generate paychecks that she would then cash.
Higgins was the general manager at a Hampton Inn 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 also emailed the hotel’s corporate human resources department and asked that the money from the paychecks be directed into a MetaBank account, and then used 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 Lexington 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 was originally charged with five felonies and could have faced up to 25 years in prison. She pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft and one count of theft of services less than $10,000. She also pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges.
Higgins was elected to her first term in November. She represented the 2nd District, which includes Georgetown Street and Leestown Road areas.
Higgins had never held public office before. The office is nonpartisan, but Higgins is registered as a Republican and had the support of many statewide Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton.
Mayor Jim Gray later appointed Joe Smith, a real estate agent and former Urban County Planning Commission member, to serve the remainder of Higgins term.