By Henry K. Lee
BERKELEY — A former UC Berkeley research administrator with a prior embezzlement conviction has been charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the university to help pay for her children’s private-school tuition, make catering orders and pay other expenses, authorities said Friday.
Alameda County prosecutors charged Sonia Waters, 36, with nine felony counts of grand theft, attempted grand theft, embezzlement of public funds and attempted embezzlement. She is free in lieu of $75,000 bail and is to appear in court July 14.
Waters’ attorney was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Between 2012 and 2014, Waters “used her position of employment and responsibility in an unauthorized manner to commit the crime of theft from University of California funds” earmarked for research project accounts, UC Berkeley police Detective Harry Bennigson wrote in a court affidavit.
Waters used $17,000 to pay for her children’s tuition at École Bilingue de Berkeley, a private French immersion language school, and tried to cover her tracks by claiming the money went toward renting school classrooms for university purposes, authorities said.
She allegedly spent $8,800 on catering orders from Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland, $28,000 on Apple computer products and $38,000 on American Express and Visa gift cards. For most of the expenses, Waters forged the signature of Stephen Shortell, then-dean of the School of Public Health, by photocopying his signature, authorities said.
UC Berkeley fired Waters earlier this year from her $73,930-a-year job. She had been initially hired by the university as an assistant in 2003, but left to work for The Hartford financial and insurance company in San Francisco.
She pleaded guilty to embezzling from the company in 2009, but at that time was back working for UC Berkeley, which apparently was unaware of the conviction. She was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay the company $32,000, said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.
“We have identified a hole in our practices that can lead to some employees hired in non-sensitive positions — those not requiring criminal background checks — moving to sensitive positions without undergoing background checks,” UC Berkeley spokeswoman Claire Holmes said Friday. “We will certainly be looking to improve our oversight in this area and will put procedures in place to address this issue.”
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