BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield reopened its Motor Vehicle Department on Wednesday and city officials said they have put checks and balances in place to better protect taxpayer money in the wake of an embezzlement scandal.
Bloomfield closed its MVD on Dec. 28 when employees in the department reported money was missing, City Manager David Fuqua said.
City officials said Melissa Mead, 34, was stealing money from the department. Mead was hired as a temporary manager because Angie Vigil, the manager who had worked in the department for more than 30 years, went on leave for personal reasons. Vigil is expected to return to her position Jan. 28.
Mead worked for the department for about four months and Fuqua said she stole $24,000. She was allegedly skimming money paid to the department and trying to cover it up.
Fuqua said Mead confessed to stealing when she was asked about the missing money on Dec. 28.
She said she stole to support her gambling addiction, he said.
A warrant was issued for Mead’s arrest Monday night and she turned herself in late Monday, Bloomfield Police Det. Chad Herrera said.
Bloomfield has changed its money-handling policies within the MVD in the wake of the theft, officials said.
Financial reports from the department that must be reported to the state are now done by city administrators instead of at the MVD to add oversight. The city is considering making similar procedure changes to its utilities department, library and pool, which are other city services where money is collected on a daily basis, Mayor Scott Eckstein said.
“The weakness was exposed and it’s been corrected ... We’ve made changes to our procedures to deter this from happening in the future,” Financial Director Brad Ellsworth said. “We’ve split up who is depositing money and who is writing the checks to the state.”
The state Taxation and Revenue Department completed an audit of the department on Tuesday and gave the city approval to reopen the MVD, Eckstein said. The department was closed a total of seven working days, which cost the city about $6,000 in lost transactions and payroll.
In addition to changing money-handling policies, Bloomfield officials also said they will examine how they do background checks for job candidates.
Bloomfield will investigate whether it can legally check a candidate’s credit scores and civil-court histories before hiring them, especially if it’s for a position where they will handle money, Eckstein said.
If the city would have checked Mead’s financial history, it may have set off red flags.
Though Mead had never been convicted or charged with a crime, she appeared in San Juan County courtrooms three times in the last 10 years because of disputes about her debts, according to court records.
Mead and her husband were sued in 2003 because they owed $9,500 to a credit union. The case was resolved in 2005 when the Meads paid their debt plus interest.
In 2008 and 2009, Mead was twice sued in magistrate court for not paying debts of about $1,000. Both those cases were resolved when she paid off the debt.
Mead was hired for the temporary position because she had experience as a supervisor at the Farmington MVD and was highly recommended by a Bloomfield resident, Fuqua said.
At first, she appeared to dazzle. Within weeks of taking over the department the average wait time at the MVD was reduced from more than an hour to 15 minutes, Fuqua said.
Daily transactions for the department surged and the Bloomfield MVD was on its way to becoming a profitable enterprise for the first time in its history, he said.
“But, of course, that all goes out the window when she’s stealing from you,” he said.