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State theft spree alleged: Worker embezzled $320,000 with credit card, officials say; loot included Lexus, hot tub and gazebo.
[February 07, 2007]

State theft spree alleged: Worker embezzled $320,000 with credit card, officials say; loot included Lexus, hot tub and gazebo.

(Sacramento Bee, The (CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 7--A state Department of Child Support Services analyst used a state credit card to embezzle $320,000, buying a flat-screen television, hot tub, gazebo, iPods, handcuffs, chains and whips, according to California Highway Patrol officials.

Carey Renee Aceves, 34, later fenced many of the items to buy a new Lexus, officials said. But even as her bosses began probing her purchases in January, Aceves was being trained to be make purchases for another state agency.

That came to a halt after the Natomas resident was arrested and spent a night in jail Thursday; Aceves was placed on paid leave from her new job at the Board of Equalization on Monday.

CHP officials -- who investigate crimes on state property -- say they are looking at Aceves' 17-month career at the child support department.

"It's probably, in CHP history, one of the larger cases we've uncovered," said Michael Champion, assistant chief of the CHP's Valley Division.

Aceves answered her front door Tuesday afternoon, but had no comment.

Aceves, a procurement analyst paid $62,064 a year, had a "Cal Card," a state credit card she was issued to pay for supplies like staplers, binders and furniture, as well as moving expenses for employees, said David Maxwell-Jolly, California Department of Child Support Services deputy director.

Managers reviewed Aceves' purchases each month, he said, noticing nothing amiss. She apparently falsified invoices to make them appear legitimate, said DCSS spokeswoman Maria Caudill. "A lot of this was buried," she said.

But unusually heavy expenses in December set off red flags, prompting DCSS officials to launch an audit in January and to contact the CHP.

Thursday evening, CHP Lt. Michael Richard showed up at the front door of the 2,900-square-foot stucco home where Aceves lives.

Richard said Aceves appeared relieved to see the officers.

"She indicated that she got caught up in a buying frenzy -- a spree," Richard said.

She led officers on a tour of the five-bedroom home, pointing out items she bought with the state card, including an electric cat blanket, rattan cat carriers and self-cleaning cat litter boxes. She bought satin and tulle formal gowns in pink, aqua and white. There were whips, handcuffs, chains and pornography videos.

The shiny blue Lexus, an SC 430 model with a suggested base price of $65,455, was in the garage with 389 miles on the odometer, Richard said. In the backyard, a gazebo sat near the hot tub and lawn furniture with a fire pit.

"It was like an addiction," Richard said of Aceves' spending, noting that she said she couldn't help herself from shopping.

CHP officers arrested her on suspicion of embezzlement, grand theft and possession of stolen property. She was booked into the Sacramento County jail and released in lieu of $80,000 bail.

Thursday night, CHP officials loaded two trucks with Aceves' purchases, which eventually will be auctioned off by the state's Department of General Services.

Neighbor Armando Baltazar, 41, said Aceves was a kind person and that he bought Girl Scout cookies from one of her children over the weekend.

He said Aceves was not flashy with money.

"I don't know, man, wow. That's pretty wild," he said hearing of the CHP's allegations. "I never got any negative vibes from her."

Neighbor Melody Johnson said she never talked to Aceves but had been annoyed before Christmas when boxes and cartons were piled high in front of her garage. Weeks later, cardboard boxes and Styrofoam peanuts flowed from her garbage can.

"My husband had to vacuum them up with a Shop Vac," Johnson complained.

Ron Roach, a spokesman for Cal-Tax, a group that opposes higher taxes, said the amount of state money Aceves allegedly squandered indicates a need for better oversight. "At least it's been brought to a screeching halt, it seems," he said.

Child Support Services spokeswoman Caudill said Aceves resigned in late December, transferring to the Board of Equalization job.

Within weeks, DCSS managers reviewing December's receipts called for a full audit.

CHP investigators traced $320,000 worth of receipts to Wal-Mart and Target, where she made the bulk of her purchases.

The DCSS now requires preapproval for purchases with its 10 "Cal Cards," and sign-off from the department's chief financial officer, Caudill said. The agency also has been granted two positions for internal auditors.

"We're working with taxpayer dollars and we want to make sure we have complete controls," Caudill said.

On Jan. 2, Aceves was hired by the procurement unit of the Board of Equalization, where she underwent training and began to research purchases for that agency, spokeswoman Anita Gore said.

Caudill said the DCSS did not alert the board to its suspicions about Aceves because the CHP had warned them not to discuss the investigation.

Aceves will remain on paid leave from the board until the investigation is resolved, Gore said.

Maxwell-Jolly said a routine background check was performed on Aceves but turned up nothing unusual.

Aceves worked as a supervisor in the state Department of Fish and Game from 2000 to 2005 and likely was involved in purchasing there as well, said spokesman Steve Martarano.

"We're reviewing with legal now to discuss our options about looking in past history," he said.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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