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McDonough man pleads guilty in federal theft case

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

A McDonough man pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to eight counts of theft for billing the government for time and travel costs he incurred while running an unauthorized consulting business, prosecutors said.

Heriberto Sanabria, 55, could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count, and a fine of up to $250,000, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Prosecutors say Sanabria was the former Region IV manager of the Social Security Administration-Civil Rights Equal Opportunity Office in Atlanta. He was responsible for oversight and management of the region's equal employment opportunity program, which includes complaint processing, alternative dispute resolution and diversity programs.

Authorities say he used his personal consulting and conference planning company, North and South Together, to run bi-annual regional workshops for the Combined Federal Campaign from March 2004 through March 2007. Authorities said he submitted travel vouchers to the government and was paid more than $11,000 for transportation, lodging and meal expenses incurred while he was conducting the workshops. An audit showed he should have been charged for 336 hours of annual leave while he was running North an South Together. Authorities said that based on his salary, those hours amounted to more than $17,000 in pay.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Loranzo Fleming said Sanabria abused his position as a high-ranking government official.

"He didn't go through the proper channels to be authorized by the agency to perform these outside activities," said Fleming.

Fleming described Sanabria's activities as an example of "double-dipping," because he was working for an outside entity under the guise of performing his official duties for the federal agency which employed him.

"The public expects government workers to work for the government, and not use the system for their own personal gain," said Acting U.S. Attorney F. Gentry Shelnutt Shelnutt. "The Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General will continue to keep a sharp eye on taxpayer money, and this office will take any appropriate steps to make sure those who take that money will pay the price of justice."

A sentencing date has been set for June 22, before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr.