SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A former aide to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was arrested Tuesday and charged embezzling money from city funds.
Lisa Serna-Mayorga, the daughter of former mayor Joe Serna and sister of Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, was charged with misappropriation of public funds, grand theft of public funds, forgery, and two counts of making or drawing worthless checks, all felonies.
“I loved my sister before this incident, I love her now, and I will continue to do so as she deals with this,” Phil Serna said in a statement Tuesday night.
Serna-Mayorga was arrested at her home in the 5800 block of 14th Avenue in the Tahoe Park area at about 4 p.m., according to police. She was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on $50,000 bail. She posted bond and was released Tuesday night.
“As I said when this issue came to light last summer, I am saddened by this news,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said in a prepared statement. “The City moved swiftly to investigate and also conducted an audit of credit card use citywide. As charges have been filed, it would be inappropriate for me or my office to comment on any of the details. As the judicial process takes its course, our thoughts are with her family.”
City Manager John Shirey requested in August that police initiate a criminal investigation into Serna-Mayorga.
Results of the investigation were forwarded to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office for review and that office filed the charges against Serna-Mayorga.
According to the criminal complaint, from July 2009 to June 2012, Serna-Mayorga used a city-issued credit card for personal items totaling more than $19,000. Among the charges were two Disneyland trips for her and her family in December 2010 and June 2012; hotels in Bodega Bay and Monterey; clothing; makeup; restaurants; grocery bills; and numerous iTunes games, music, movies, and entertainment applications.
In June when an internal audit revealed Serna-Mayorga had not been submitting the required paperwork documenting her purchases, she admitted that numerous charges were personal, the complaint says.
On June 28, she wrote two checks to the city totaling $3,029.17 for food and travel-related purchases. On July 18, Serna-Mayorga wrote another check to the city for $6,000 to cover additional personal expenses she had charged. However, stop payments were placed on all three checks before the city could submit them for deposit, and in any event Serna-Mayorga’s checking account did not have the funds to cover the checks, according to the complaint.
The investigation reportedly found that for some of the accounting documents she had submitted to justify her purchases, the signature of the mayor’s chief of staff, Kunal Merchant, was forged.
Serna-Mayorga was the former council operations manager for the mayor’s office before being named the mayor’s director of constituent affairs. She resigned in July.
Councilmember Steve Cohn worked closely with her and her late father.
“On a personal level, it is shocking,” Cohn said Tuesday night. “I think the public was concerned that there was special treatment being given to highly placed person, but obviously that’s not the case.”
Cohn says now there’s new checks and balances in place to keep this from ever happening again.
“It sends the message people are watching and people are auditing and while you might get away with something for some period of time, you’re going to get caught,” he said.
Serna-Mayorga faces a maximum sentence of nearly seven years in prison if found guilty on all the charges, the DA’s office said.