A former Mid-Peninsula Water District worker stole more than $200,000 to fund a gambling addiction but the three-year theft was not discovered until after the woman had a stroke and another employee took over her responsibilities, according to prosecutors.
The District Attorney’s Office charged Catherine Abou-Remeleh, 53, with crimes that carry up to eight years in prison including theft of government funds over $200,000, identity theft and an allegation of committing aggravated white collar crime.
Abou-Remeleh, of Hayward, is in an assisted living facility with severe medical issues stemming from her stroke so she wasn’t arrested and won’t be in court until Nov. 12, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Prosecutors began looking at Abou-Remeleh after the district turned over its suspicions but was waiting on the results of a lengthy forensic audit before filing charges, Wagstaffe said.
Abou-Remeleh was the administrative services manager of the municipal water special district that primarily serves Belmont and reportedly worked there for about a decade. Just before Christmas of 2011, she took a leave of absence after suffering a stroke and another employee discovered some “financial irregularities” that prompted its own audit in late 2011.
Those irregularities, Wagstaffe said, included writing 187 checks to herself from the district’s Wells Fargo account between November 2008 and November 2011. The money was used for gambling, he said.
An anonymous source previously told the Daily Journal her interim replacement allegedly found a stack of checks hidden away in a filing cabinet that were all made out to Abou-Remeleh.
She also allegedly used the company credit card which led to the identity theft charge.
District Board Matthew Zucca did not respond to phone and email inquiries but in March 2012 confirmed to the Daily Journal that it had turned over its audit to prosecutors and “will continue to fully support any actions taken and decisions made by the District Attorney.”
Mid-Peninsula Water District is a local government agency that provides water to 28,000 homes in Belmont, parts of San Carlos, parts of Redwood City and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County. It has an annual budget of about $8.5 million and is served by a five-person elected board of directors. It collects about $180,000 annually in local property taxes.
The water district is the second county special district in recent history to have a former worker charged with embezzlement. The former finance director and a bookkeeper with the Mosquito and Vector Control District have been convicted of embezzling nearly a half-million dollars and are scheduled for sentencing Oct. 25.
Since the economic recession, the county has seen an uptick in embezzlement all around, including government agencies and districts, Wagstaffe said.
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