Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Barbara Herreras, 52, was arrested and booked into the jail on a warrant relating to charges of theft, forgery, and fraudulent schemes. Herreras is accused of embezzling roughly $60,000 from the town of Pima during her tenure as the town clerk.
Accused of stealing roughly $60,000 from the town’s sewer fund
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – Former Pima Town Clerk Barbara Herreras, 52, was arrested and booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility on Jan. 2 relating to the theft of $59,250 from the town of Pima.
The money was taken from cash deposits from residents’ sewer bills from the fiscal year 2017/18. Another missing $17,000 from fiscal year 2016/17 is also now believed to have been stolen by Herreras and is under investigation. The Gila Herald first reported the embezzlement and listed Herreras as the suspect in an article from July 2019. (See Gila Herald: Former Town Clerk likely to be charged with embezzlement; July 3, 2019)
The Graham County Attorney’s Office filed charges of theft, fraudulent schemes/artifices, and forgery against Herreras on Dec. 12, 2019, and a warrant for her arrest was issued Dec. 16. On Jan. 2, Herreras was picked up in Greenlee County on her warrant and transported back to Graham County, where she was booked into the jail. She is being held on a $75,000 bond.
According to police reports from the Pima Police Department and Graham County Sheriff’s Office, accountants first brought the $17,000 discrepancy to then Pima Town Manager Jeff McCormick after an audit of the fiscal year 2016/17 but McCormick chalked it up to Herreras not knowing how to enter the amounts into the bookkeeping software correctly. McCormick later resigned from his position amidst financial questionings from the Pima Town Council in lieu of being terminated in May 2017. Current Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis was immediately inserted as the interim manager and became the permanent manager officially in July 2017.
After Herreras complained that she had never been trained on how to do the bookkeeping, the town registered her for classes at Eastern Arizona College but she never attended.
In March 2018, Lewis was informed by Jim Usevitch of Colby & Powell PLC that large amounts of cash were missing from the town. When confronted by Lewis in an audio-taped conversation, Herreras admitted to stealing the money and agreed to quit in lieu of termination on March 19, 2018.
“This was public money,” Lewis said. “I’m sorry for the people in the community who had their money misused. We’re looking to right it in whichever manner possible. We’re looking to fix the situation – whether that be through restitution or criminal charges – we have to make right with the people who had their money stolen.”
The town of Pima is insured against theft and has received payment from its insurance company for the $59,250 stolen in fiscal year 2017/18. If the $17,000 from the previous year is proven to have been stolen as well and not just an accounting error, the town will look to have that money paid back as well.
Changes to sewer accounting
In the wake of the theft, the town of Pima has changed its accounting practices regarding how residents pay their sewer bill, which is now included in the utility bill sent out by the Graham County Electric Cooperative. By utilizing the Co-op, the town has seen a dramatic decrease in cash going through Pima Town Hall (from a couple of thousand each week to about a hundred each month) while seeing its sewer revenues rise to never-before-attained rates.
According to Lewis, the previous high paid to the town for sewer services in one month was $9,600 with about 70 percent of residents paying their sewer bill. Now, the town is seeing revenue of $12,450 per month with 100 percent payment compliance with the bills going through the Co-op and there is no chance for another embezzlement case with a town employee the way Herreras allegedly perpetrated her crime.
The Co-op charges less than one percent to bill and process the payments ($1.43 per bill), making it a viable program for both entities.