BERKELEY -- A former UC Berkeley administrator -- who was rehired by the university despite a previous felony embezzlement conviction -- has been charged with stealing about $90,000 of public funds to pay for her children's private-school tuition and other expenses.
Sonia Chante Waters, 36, was charged with nine felony counts of grand theft and embezzlement on May 19, authorities said. University officials said May 30 that they were not aware of Waters' previous conviction when she returned to the university after a stint with another company.
UC Berkeley police Lt. Eric Tejada said that Waters turned herself in to police shortly before the charges were filed. Her San Francisco-based attorney, Mark Vermeulan, could not be reached last week for comment.
Waters was booked into Santa Rita Jail and was free Friday on $75,000 bail, Tejada said. She faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
UC Berkeley officials fired Waters from her $72,930-a-year job on April 21 after authorities learned of the missing money.
According to a court affidavit, from 2012 to 2014 Waters used her job to take the unauthorized funds, which were earmarked for research project accounts.
The affidavit says she used just over $17,000 to pay for her children's tuition at École Bilingue de Berkeley, a private French language school.
She is accused of spending $8,850 on catering orders from Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland, just over $28,000 on Apple computer products and $38,000 on American Express and Visa gift cards. For some of the expenses, Waters forged the signature of Stephen Shortell, then-dean of the School of Public Health, by photocopying his signature, authorities said.
Waters initially had been hired by the university as an assistant in 2003, but she left to work for The Hartford financial and insurance company in San Francisco. She returned to the university in 2007 -- after her bosses at The Hartford found she was taking funds from the company and fired her, according to a report in Time Magazine. In August 2009, Waters pleaded guilty to embezzling from The Hartford.
She was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay the company just over $32,000, said Maxwell Szabo, a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.
UC Berkeley spokeswoman Claire Holmes said the school has identified the failure in procedure that allowed Waters to rejoin the university despite her troubled past.
"She started at one level in the organization that didn't necessarily require or prompt a background check and through her tenure she progressed into her (most recent) post which absolutely should have had one," Holmes said.
"Unfortunately, there was a lapse in our process.
"We are working on ways to address this ... (and developing) better internal reviews so if an employee moves into another position that a background check gets done."
Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund