SAN DIEGO - Former El Cajon City Councilwoman Jillian Hanson-Cox pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges of mail fraud and filing a false tax return stemming from the embezzlement of $3.5 million from her Kearny Mesa employer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark said Hanson-Cox took the money between April 2004 and November 2008 from Century Design, a maker of machinery for processing composite materials. Hanson-Cox worked as a controller for the company.
Several people connected with El Cajon's annual Mother Goose Parade, for which she was a board member, have been contacted by the FBI during their investigation of the case. While no mention was made during the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo about the financially strapped event, court records referred to payments she made to support "her community activities."
The judge scheduled sentencing for Dec. 3, when she faces up to 23 years in prison and a $7.1 million fine. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Kanter said prosecutors will recommend an unspecified lower term.
Hanson-Cox, who resigned her council post in March, remained free on $100,000 bond. Her attorney, Charles Sevilla, declined to comment.
In her resignation letter sent to El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis on March 7, Hanson-Cox wrote, "Recent events have given rise to a burden and demands on my time that would possibly detract from the time necessary to continue my commitment to the city and my constituents."
According to court documents, Hanson-Cox wrote checks to herself, to credit card companies to pay her personal balances and to businesses for services or items for herself or to support her community activities. She was allowed to write company checks with just her name, but was not authorized for the personal uses, according to the documents.
The records indicate she also changed the payee of the checks when she entered them in company records.
The charged false tax return was filed electronically for the 2007 tax year. However, returns covering the tax years 2005-09 misstated her income, which shorted the federal government by $1.2 million, according to the court documents.
"I am dedicated to pursuing officials who engage in illegal activity, whether it is connected to their public office or private employment," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement after the hearing. "While embezzling millions of dollars from CDI, former Councilwoman Hanson-Cox not only traded on her reputation as a public official, but also betrayed every citizen who expected her to act honestly in both her private and public affairs."