The wheelchair-bound former Mid-Peninsula Water District worker accused of stealing more than $200,000 to fund a gambling addiction pleaded no contest Wednesday to embezzlement in return for no more than five years in prison.
Catherine Marie Abou-Remeleh’s alleged crimes went unnoticed for three years until the 53-year-old Hayward woman left the district on medical leave after a 2011 stroke.
Abou-Remeleh was originally charged with theft of government funds more than $200,000, identity theft and an allegation of committing aggravated white-collar crime. She changed her plea Wednesday to no contest on one count of committing government fraud and stealing more than $200,000. Prosecutors made no promises but the court capped her potential term at five years when she is sentenced May 30. She will also likely be ordered to pay restitution and an aggravated white-collar crime fine.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher doesn’t anticipate her health challenges will play a role in Abou-Remeleh’s ultimate punishment.
“The fact she’s in a wheelchair shouldn’t mitigate her sentence,” he said. “Bad luck on your health doesn’t mean you aren’t culpable.”
Abou-Remeleh was the administrative services manager of the Mid-Peninsula Water District which 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 reportedly included writing 187 checks to herself from the district’s Wells Fargo account between November 2008 and November 2011. The $247,881 in purloined funds was allegedly used to pay gambling debts.
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.
The district launched its own audit and turned over the findings to prosecutors who conducted its own forensic evaluation before filing charges in October.
Abou-Remeleh remains free from custody on her own recognizance pending sentencing. She is reportedly staying in an assisted living facility because of the stroke.
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