A Merced County Superior Court clerk was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of embezzling about $5,000 from the courthouse.
Amanda B. Munoz was arrested on suspicion of a single felony count of embezzlement and ordered to appear in court March 25 for arraignment. She was not booked at the Merced County Jail, Merced police said.
Munoz, 32, of Turlock, worked for the courts traffic division for about five years, said Detective Allen Adrian, the lead investigator in the case.
Efforts to reach Munoz by telephone on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Munoz initially denied any wrongdoing, but eventually admitted taking the money, Merced police said in a statement.
She said she took the money to pay bills, Adrian said.
Between at least August 2012 and January 2013, Munoz is believed to have pocketed about $5,000 in cash from at least 16 individuals, most of whom speak only Spanish, Adrian said.
Police said the embezzlement appears to have stopped in January 2013, after court officials began to question employees and an internal financial audit was initiated. The audit was conducted by the Administration Office of the Courts, according to the police statement.
Linda Romero-Soles, the courts chief executive, said she could not comment on the matter, citing personnel issues.
In general, Romero-Soles said, court audits typically take about two to three months.
But it can appear to take longer because they are done by the (administration office) out of San Francisco and they dont always start on one particular audit right away because they have others that are taking priority, Romero-Soles said.
Court officials turned over the audit to the Merced County District Attorneys Office, who sent the case to the Merced Police Department.
The investigation needed to be completed and I think they did a really great job on it, Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll said.
Prosecutors are still waiting for the final case file to be completed. Formal criminal charges had not been filed as of Tuesday.
Munoz took cash payments from people and gave them handwritten receipts, then doctored computer records to show payment extensions had been approved or dismissed.
But there were no supporting documents in the files showing those cases actually had been dismissed by the court, Adrian said.
Discrepancies first surfaced, Adrian said, in September 2012 when two people received collection notices for traffic fines they had paid. They were able to show receipts for those payments, Adrian said.
Those discrepancies triggered the court audit, which discovered at least 14 additional cases of possible embezzlement, authorities said.
In addition to auditing Munozs work, court administrators also randomly audited other clerks as a precaution and found no other evidence of theft by other employees, police said.
Munozs arrest marked the second time in less than a year that someone working for the Merced courthouse has been accused of cooking financial records and pocketing the money.
Michelle C. Pomicpic, a former contract court investigator, has pleaded not guilty to 14 felony counts of defrauding the court.
Pomicpic, 40, is scheduled to return to court in March.
Police said it was possible additional cases could be located as the investigation continues.
Individuals who believe they may have been victimized or have any information regarding the case are asked to contact the Merced Police Department at (209) 385-4731.
Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 385-2482.