Former Los Lunas receptionist sentenced to 42 months in federal prison

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A Los Lunas woman charged with numerous felony charges for using other people's credit cards for personal purchases has been sentenced to 42 months in federal prison.

Sandra Rivas, 36, pleaded guilty in November to a bank fraud charge and two aggravated identity fraud charges. Last week, Rivas was sentenced to prison, followed by three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay more than $14,022 in restitution to the victims.

Rivas was indicted in May 2012, and charged with 11 counts of bank fraud, 28 counts of aggravated identity theft, 18 counts of wire fraud and one count of access device fraud. According to the indictment, between March 2011 and July 2011, Rivas engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct while employed as a receptionist at Leigh Van Gilst CPA & Associates, a small accounting firm that provides tax preparation services in Los Lunas.

As the receptionist, Rivas was responsible for accepting payments to the business from clients in the form of cash, checks and credit cards. Rivas altered the payee information on checks payable to her employer and deposited the altered checks into her personal bank account, using the names, addresses, telephone numbers and bank account numbers of her employer's clients to commit criminal offenses.

She also made fraudulent online purchases by using the credit card information belonging to Van Gilst's clients.

In entering her guilty plea, Rivas admitted that, while employed as a receptionist, she altered 11 checks payable to her employer by adding her name as payee and depositing the checks in her own bank account. Rivas also admitted using the names and credit card numbers of her employer and her employer's clients at least 19 times to make fraudulent online purchases for her own benefit.

According to the indictment, a victim who reported the credit card fraud to police said the last time she had used her card prior to the fraudulent purchases was at the CPA firm. Other documents revealed that clothing purchased on the victim's credit card was shipped to a P.O. box in Los Lunas, which was maintained by the Westside Family Chapel.

A volunteer at the church told officers that part of Rivas' duties at the church was picking up mail for the church. The volunteer said Rivas was terminated from the CPA firm after an internal investigation revealed she was modifying and altering entries of payments from clients, the application said.

During a search at Riva's home, on the 200 block of Solitude in Los Lunas, officers seized several items, including sticky notes with handwritten credit card information listing various names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers and two flash drives.

On May 17, 2011, another customer reported an unauthorized withdrawal of more than $2,500 from his personal bank account, which was paid to an international wire remitting service which is used to transfer funds electronically.

Rivas is required to surrender to a federal correctional institution to be designated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons within 60 days to begin serving her prison sentence. As required by the plea agreement, the remaining counts in the indictment were dismissed after Rivas was sentenced.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.