FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --It's the end of the road for a former Caltrans officials accused of embezzling thousands of dollars for everything from fake expenses to trips never taken. With a few quiet words, Christine Cox-Kovacevich admitted to boosting her six-figure government salary by ripping off taxpayers.
California Highway Patrol investigators said the former Deputy District Director of the Caltrans Fresno Division submitted more than 106 fraudulent expense reports. Action News may have caught her in the act-- as she sat with co-workers at a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2014, investigators said she also claimed to be on a business trip to Sacramento, claiming expenses of almost $210. She'll have to pay that back, as part of a plea deal that'll keep her out of prison.
"And that was a big sticking point as well: How much money was she actually going to be responsible for and how long would it take her to be able to get the money together and pay it off," said David Mugridge, Cox-Kovacevich's Defense Attorney.
Cox-Kovacevich eventually agreed to give back more than $15,000 and plead guilty to two felony counts of embezzlement. Prosecutors dropped 98 other charges.
Her fellow Caltrans employees tipped off investigators about the fake expense reports. They discovered she claimed to be in two places at once, like at the ribbon cutting. They also found calls on her work phone showing she was in Fresno when she claimed to be out of town, and her key card was used at the Fresno Caltrans offices on other supposed travel days.
Cox-Kovacevich will serve three years on probation and her defense attorney says her case can serve as a warning.
"To the extent that there are other people working in governmental entities, this is kind of a shot across the bow, if you will, to say if need be we'll come after you, if we have to, for embezzlement. So you better be sure you're being honest with every dollar that's entrusted to you," said Mugridge.
Caltrans said it's worked to revise internal controls, requiring more oversight and audits to prevent similar fraudulent activity by other employees.