Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – Former Pima Town Clerk Barbera Herreras is likely to be charged with embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from town coffers once an investigation by the Graham County Sheriff’s Office is complete.
During Tuesday night’s Pima Town Council meeting, council members were presented with an audit by Jim Usevitch of Colby & Powell PLC, which showed that tens of thousands of dollars were missing from the town’s fiscal year 2016/17 finances and also from fiscal year 2017/18.
Usevitch said bank reconciliations were not being done in a timely manner or correctly, which led to the possibility of embezzlement. He said when he looked into the 2017 audit, he realized the town had about $400,000 in transit that hadn’t been deposited.
“For a town like Pima, that’s a lot of money,” Usevitch said. “We realized that there was a problem and the problem was when we were finding cash and checks, the checks were getting deposited and the cash was not getting deposited in the bank and nor was the cash anywhere to be found at the time we were doing the audit. So, basically, there was embezzling happening.”
Graham County Sheriff’s Office Detective Michael Cochran issued a release stating that the Sheriff’s Office was conducting an investigation into the theft of public monies that had been reported by Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis.
While the release did not name the suspect, the only town employee in such a position to perpetrate such a theft during the time period is likely Herreras, who served as Pima Town Clerk under town managers Jeff McCormick and Sean Lewis until she abruptly quit her job at the end of March 2018.
Additionally, Usevitch told the council that the former town clerk had used her position to pocket cash payments while only depositing check payments.
“We discovered that the town clerk embezzled in this past year that covered both the 2017 and 2018 fiscal year,” Usevitch said. “The theft was discovered during an audit of the 2017 fiscal year. The clerk admitted to the embezzlement and was immediately terminated.”
While Lewis declined to comment on the embezzlement, he advised that Herreras did quit in lieu of termination but would not elaborate on her departure beyond that.
Former Pima Town Manager Jeff McCormick resigned at the end of May 2017, and current Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis was immediately inserted as the interim manager and became the permanent manager officially in July 2017.
Since the embezzlement stretched through both town managers’ tenures, it most likely had to be an employee who was also there through both town managers and had access to the system where one could steal the money. The only person who fits that bill is Herreras.
However, both the Sheriff’s Office and town of Pima administrators are keeping a tight lid on things until the investigation is complete.
“In order to keep the integrity of this investigation intact, the Graham County Sheriff’s Office and the town of Pima will not publicly disclose anything regarding this case while the investigation is ongoing,” Cochran wrote in his release. “I can say that this office has received sufficient information which warrants this investigation to proceed.
Please understand that this is a complex case in which a considerable amount of time will have to be devoted to the investigation, therefore a specific or estimated timeframe on when this investigation will be completed cannot be given at this time.”
Since the embezzlement, the town of Pima has taken on various precautionary measures to ensure such an action is not repeated in the future. Usevitch complimented the town and its administration on improving the way the town’s money is handled and for keeping a better eye on the finances than the previous administration under McCormick did.