A trusted accountant with the city of Hialeah was accused of stealing more than $250,000 from a retirement fund to buy himself a second home in North Carolina.
Posted on MiamiHerald.com on Tue, Oct. 23, 2007
by LUISA YANEZ
Alejandro ‘Alex’ Torrecillas was taken into custody Oct. 15 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as he returned from vacation. He suffered a medical emergency and was treated before his arrest. His police mug shot shows him in a hospital gown.
For years, no one suspected Alejandro “Alex” Torrecillas of being anything more than a super accountant — assigned to manage both retirement accounts of city of Hialeah employees and also money matters for their union.
Then, earlier this month, Torrecillas went on a Peruvian vacation. Within a day, his replacement detected funny business in the books. A probe was launched by Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and the city’s police department.
By the time Torrecillas was on his way home, his career as a numbers cruncher appeared over.
CARS AND A HOME
The investigation revealed Torrecillas had allegedly embezzled more than $250,000 from employees’ annuity accounts dating to 2004, Robaina said. He apparently used the money to enrich himself and to buy a second home in North Carolina, along with several cars.
Torrecillas, 50, was taken into custody Oct. 15 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as he returned from his vacation. He suffered a medical emergency and was treated before his arrest. His police mug shot shows him in a hospital gown.
Torrecillas now faces felony charges of official misconduct, organized fraud and grand theft, and six counts of forging checks.
He is free on a $100,000 bond posted Thursday. His next court appearance is Nov. 2.
A telephone call to his Hialeah home was not returned.
Hialeah police did not comment, referring all questions to the mayor.
“I have zero tolerance of this type of crime,” Robaina said Monday. “He was a trusted employee in a very sensitive position.”
The city immediately fired Torrecillas, who had worked there since the late 1990s.
“He bought himself a second home in North Carolina, and we’ll try to take that away from him,” Robaina said.
Prosecutors will search for bank accounts and safety boxes linked to Torrecillas.
Torrecillas was a bonded employee — meaning the city has insurance against such internal thefts. The employees whose retirement annuity accounts were ripped off will be refunded.
“We will recapture all the money stolen,” Robaina said.
CHECKS TO HIMSELF
The scheme was simple: employee accounts with low monthly activity or annual annuity payments on retirement investment accounts were targeted.
For the official office record, Torrecillas would make out the check stubs to the designated retirement account. But he would make out the actual checks to himself, Robaina said.
The amounts varied, “from a hundred to thousands of dollars.”
New security measures have been put in place to protect against such thefts in the future, Robaina said.
And troubles may not be over for Torrecillas and the city’s 1,800 employees. The local branch of the union that represents Hialeah employees — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — also used Torrecillas as an accountant.
“We have alerted them and they’re doing their own investigation,” Robaina said.