REDWOOD CITY -- A Hayward woman accused of taking part in a roughly $650,000 fraud at San Mateo County's mosquito killing agency pleaded no contest Monday to embezzlement and other felonies, attorneys said.
Vika Sinipata, 36, faces a maximum of eight years behind bars for allegedly stealing from the Mosquito and Vector Control District, but may get less as part of a deal with prosecutors. However, her defense attorney Alexander Cross declined to specify terms of the bargain.
In an embezzlement scheme that ran from 2009 to 2011 Sinipata and Jo Ann Dearman, 62, took taxpayer money by giving themselves raises, extra pay and using agency credit cards for personal purchases, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. The women, who worked in the finance department, were caught when board members noticed suspiciously high spending on things like pesticides.
The alleged embezzlement prompted a backlash that nearly led to the agency being taken over by the county environmental health department. However, members of the county's Local Agency Formation Commission were ultimately swayed by the agency's moves to tighten its money-handling practices.
Dearman, who also used the alias Joanne Seeney, is set for trial in April and has pleaded not guilty. Her alleged involvement in the case especially outraged critics because she got her job at the agency even though she had been caught allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a previous employer. It turned out agency Director Robert Gay had hired her without performing one of the background checks that have since become mandatory for the district's new hires.
Sinipata entered her pleas in San Mateo County Superior Court to four felony counts each of stealing government money, embezzlement and altering a public document, attorneys said. Prosecutors said they dismissed four charges she destroyed evidence of the embezzlement. Authorities allege she took about $80,000.
"You take a plea deal to take advantage of an offer, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent," said Cross.
Sinipata remains behind bars and is due back in court April 29 to set a sentencing date, Wagstaffe said. Dearman is out of custody on $250,000 bail.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.