IMPERIAL COUNTY- A former purchasing agent for the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge was convicted of theft of government property for personal use of a credit card.
On Monday June 24, Gabriela Lawson, convicted for using a government credit card to purchase personal items avoided a prison sentence but was ordered to pay $30,122.88 restitution by the Honorable M. James Lorenz, United States District Judge. According to a press release from The Office of the United States Attorney, Lawson had “systematically stolen from the refuge over a three-year period.” Lawson, 40, a resident of Brawley had been working for the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge for ten years.
As the purchasing agent for the refuge, Lawson was authorized to use government credit cards for the purchase of supplies required by the refuge. The credit cards were paid directly by Fish and Wildlife and court records state the Lawson was a trusted employee, but did not have permission to use the cards for personal purchases. However in May of 2011, Lawson’s credit card was flagged for suspicious activity.
The department of Interior, Office of Inspector General began a review of the three government issued credit cards which Lawson had been given authority to use. The review uncovered a series of unauthorized purchases and according to the press release these purchases were items that were for Lawson’s own use or for that of her family. The release stated “Purchases at hardware and department stores for the refuge were interspersed with purchases of “Hello Kitty” merchandise. This embezzlement of funds took place between 2008 and 2011 for more than $30,000 of personal purchases. The maximum penalties for her charges were 10 years incarceration and 3 years probation, however she was sentenced to 5 years probation and 250 hours of community service in addition to the restitution.
DOJ Press Release: Former Purchasing Agent Sentenced