A former high-ranking Caltrans employee pleaded guilty Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court to embezzling about $15,000 from the state agency.
The lawyer for Christine Cox-Kovacevich said the plea agreement was a favorable resolution for both sides.
“While she admits to some liability, the DA has to agree the case was overcharged,” Fresno attorney David Mugridge said.
Court records say Cox-Kovacevich, 46, of Fresno, was arrested in January and charged with 100 felony counts of embezzlement, forgery, grand theft and making false travel claims.
Since her arrest, she has been free on $528,000 bail.
In a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to two felony charges and agreed to pay $15,000 in restitution, the amount she embezzled from the California Department of Transporation, prosecutor Robert Mangano said. In exchange for her plea, the prosecution dismissed 98 felony charges and agreed to recommending probation, Mugridge said.
While she admits to some liability, the DA has to agree the case was overcharged.
Fresno defense lawyer David Mugridge
Cox-Kovacevich will be formally sentenced on Sept. 27.
According to her LinkedIn.com page, Cox-Kovacevich worked at Caltrans since 1998 and has held a number of titles, including environmental division chief, supervising environmental planner, senior environmental planner and associate environmental planner. She resigned in September 2015 after she learned she was under investigation by the California Highway Patrol.
An arrest warrant accused Cox-Kovacevich of filing false reimbursement claims, asking the state to pay for her travel out of town when she was in Fresno. A criminal complaint said the crimes occurred from July 2012 to May 2015.
Mugridge said Tuesday that if the case had gone to trial, his client could have been exonerated because Cox-Kovacevich “wasn’t the only one doing this.”
The evidence, Mugridge said, would have shed light on how employees took advantage of Caltrans’ sloppy accounting system. “While she accepts responsibility, the evidence would have shown a bunch of people did it because it was a habit or custom in the department,” Mugridge said, noting that Caltrans has fixed its accounting system as a result of Cox-Kovacevich’s case.
In the end, “neither side wanted to take the risk of going to trial,” Mugridge said.
Mangano said Caltrans and CHP officials in Sacramento agreed with the plea agreement.