A former executive assistant to California Rep. Loretta Sanchez was sentenced Friday to three years probation for stealing office funds to get herself pizza, groceries, airline tickets and an authorized bonus.
Caroline Valdez, a 28-year-old engaged mother from Arlington, Va., could have faced up to six months in prison for forging the Democratic congresswoman’s signature to get $6,000 in bonus salary in 2006 and using Sanchez’s House credit card for the personal expenses. But prosecutors supported Valdez’s request for probation, agreeing that she has accepted responsibility by pleading guilty and repaying what she stole.
Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. said her theft, which prosecutors say totaled about $7,000, contributed to the perception that government officials have their “hand in the public till.” The prosecutor said that is why they insisted Valdez plead guilty to a felony.
The native of Nogales, Ariz., quit her studies at Arizona State University in 2004 to pursue a political career in Washington at age 23. Her attorneys said she was living on her own for the first time and was struggling to pay her bills on a roughly $30,000 congressional salary with the high cost of living in Washington, student loan payments due and her irresponsible spending habits.
Valdez, crying and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, told the judge her actions were “stupid, selfish and wrong” but she is working to turn her life around and has learned the value of honesty. Kennedy then questioned why she told a probation officer earlier this year that she graduated from Arizona State when she hasn’t received her diploma. Valdez said she was scared the lie she had told employers and her family would be exposed.
Kennedy said he thinks she has a problem with telling the truth and ordered that she get counseling as part of her probation.
Valdez’s attorneys said she was fired from a subsequent job after disclosing her crime and is now a stay-at-home mom caring for her 10-month-old son and taking online courses to finish her degree.
Sanchez’s office, where Valdez worked for two years before her theft was discovered, declined to comment.