Coral Gables

Former Coral Gables employee accused of stealing $85,000 from the city

Migdalia Ruiz
Migdalia Ruiz

A former Coral Gables accounting clerk has been jailed on charges of stealing more than $85,000 from the city.

Migdalia Ruiz, 62, was arrested March 8 and charged with second-degree grand theft, organized fraud and false entry.

The former accounting clerk in the city’s finance department was primarily in charge of “false alarms” billing and collections, according to city Finance Director Diana Gomez.

Ruiz, who was an employee for nearly 12 years, is accused of funneling various checks from solid waste fees, false alarm fees, liens and business tax receipts directly into her own bank account using the photo check-cashing feature on her TD Bank phone app. Gomez said the city became aware of the theft after the city’s bank informed it that a check that the city deposited had already been cashed.

The arrest report says Ruiz cashed more than 250 checks totaling $85,254 over several years, as recently as May 2016. She used the name Migdalia Velez through a TD Bank account that was separate from the city’s SunTrust Bank account, the report said.

As an accounting clerk, Ruiz had the ability to make adjustments or write off accounts, the report said. She left the city in August 2016, and the city’s investigation began shortly after that. Her arrest was first reported by WPLG Local 10.

The city was alerted when SunTrust notified the city’s finance department that a check it deposited had already been deposited in a TD Bank account.

When the subject of Ruiz’s arrest came up at Tuesday’s commission meeting, some commissioners seemed to be familiar with the situation, while others expressed frustration that they weren’t given advance notice by staff.

“My understanding of a city manager’s job is to run the day-to-day operations of the city but to also make sure that the City Commission is aware of all issues,” Commissioner Vince Lago said.

City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark said her office didn’t want to release more information on the case until an internal affairs investigation yielded some answers.

Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez said that the city has taken steps to put an additional validation process in place.

Maria Cruz, a vocal resident who has been critical of Swanson-Rivenbark in the past, said that the city should do more than just change internal practices.

“If they don’t call for an independent investigation, then they’re fooling themselves,” Cruz said. “This is not what transparency is all about.”

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

Alex Harris: 305-376-5005, @harrisalexc