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Police: Clerk of courts employee steals $20K in cash

Cynthia Sarabia arrested, charged with organized scheme to defraud

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A year-long investigation into more than three years of possible criminal activity has led to the arrest of a Duval County clerk of courts employee.

Cynthia Sarabia, 61, is charged with an organized scheme to defraud.

According to the arrest report, Sarabia stole about $20,000 in cash when she worked as a cashier for the clerk of courts from 2010 to 2013. As part of her job, Sarabia received cash from people who came to the courthouse to make payments.

Police said Sarabia also processed checks from fees and fines paid to the Florida Department of Corrections. The report said Sarabia devised a plan to steal the cash and shortchange the checks she processed in an attempt to conceal the cash.

"Someone who has been there for a long period of time understands the weaknesses in the system and knows how to take money from it without being detected over a while," News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. "She could have changed her technique after a while to throw people off the trail."

Smith said that's why it took police nearly a year from last October, when Duval County Clerk Ronnie Fussell says he first noticed discrepancies to Sarabia's arrest.

"That's not a long period of time at all because they have to figure out what the scheme is, how the scheme is being done and then what accounts are being compromised, because they have several accounts," Smith said.

The arrest report said Sarabia was interviewed Tuesday and admitted to stealing the cash over several years. She told police she was having financial troubles and needed the money to help pay her bills.

News4Jax found court documents from November 2014, showing that Sarabia was ordered to pay a company around $1,600.

Smith said the clerk of courts will likely examine its current systems.

"I am sure the clerk of courts, once the investigation is complete, they will look at exactly what she did, and they will be able to make corrections there so that at least that type of scheme won't be able to continue," Smith said.

The Clerk's Office released a statement Wednesday that said Fussell contacted the Integrity Unit of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office after detecting suspicious activity in various transactions. Since October 2014, the clerk's office had been assisting the Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office as they conducted a criminal investigation into Sarabia.

The nature of the scheme was so complex that it took nearly a year to research transactions dating from January 2009 to the most recent transaction in September 2013, the clerk's office said.

"These are never stories we are happy to report, but I cannot and will not tolerate any violation of the public trust by my employees and will prosecute it to the fullest extent if it is discovered," Fussell said in the release.

The clerk's office said it issued a statement about the arrest in the spirit of transparency and to emphasize that it is committed to standing guard over the nearly $386 million that passes through its office annually.

The clerk's office said it has initiated the termination process for Sarabia "in accordance with civil service rules."

Sarabia, who has been released from jail on bond, is scheduled for her next court appearance on Oct. 7.