REDWOOD CITY -- A Hayward woman who worked for a San Mateo County water district faces felony charges on allegations she stole $247,000 from the agency to pay gambling debts, a prosecutor said Friday.
Catherine Abou-Remeleh, 53, allegedly wrote herself 187 checks from a bank account holding funds for the Mid-Peninsula Water District, where she worked in finance. A health problem in late 2011 led to her going on leave and the subsequent discovery of the theft, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Abou-Remeleh is due in San Mateo County Superior Court Nov. 12 for her first hearing on the charges, which include theft of government funds, embezzlement and identity theft, Wagstaffe said. She is not in jail and her health problems could delay her arraignment.
Her attorney Steve Teich said he hadn't seen the evidence against his client yet and declined to comment. However, he said she is recovering from the stroke in an assisted-living facility and is expected to be well enough to attend court.
Abou-Remeleh was an administrative services manager at the district when the theft started in November 2008. The thievery continued through November 2011 when she suffered a stroke and went out on medical leave, Wagstaffe said. She'd been working for the district for about 10 years.
In Abou-Remeleh's absence another district worker took over her duties and noticed discrepancies in the district's accounts. Those inconsistencies triggered an audit, which uncovered $247,881 in stolen money, Wagstaffe said. It also prompted a criminal investigation.
Prosecutors believe Abou-Remeleh was taking the money in order to pay for her gambling habit, but didn't elaborate. Teich said he was unaware of that allegation.
Mid-Peninsula officials said the district has taken steps to prevent this type of theft from happening again. Board President Albert Stuebing said management has installed new financial controls, such as involving multiple people in writing checks to pay bills.
"You want to trust the people you work with," he said. "But you want to be in a circumstance where you don't have to trust them."
Insurance covered the $247,000 loss for the district, which has about 8,000 customers and operates on a roughly $9 million annual budget, Stuebing said. The district also includes a small section of San Carlos and some unincorporated land.
The timeline of this alleged theft overlaps with a roughly $650,000 embezzlement at San Mateo County's pest killing agency. Two finance workers gave themselves raises, used company credit cards for personal purchases and other ruses as part of the fraud from 2009-2011, prosecutors said.
The two former Mosquito and Vector Control workers await sentencing in the case, which came to light when a board member noticed excessive spending.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.