UPDATE: 3:59 p.m.

The Panhandle Regional Planning Commission released a statement this afternoon saying:

Full transparency and accountability have been a hallmark of Panhandle Regional Planning Commission for over 50 years and will continue to be a primary focus in the future. Internal controls identified the issue and the former employee was immediately suspended pending investigation. The internal investigation was reported to law enforcement and our funding agencies. Based on the results of our investigation, the employee was fired, and we continue to work with law enforcement through the legal system for a final resolution. PRPC will continue to provide services to the Texas Panhandle through honesty, integrity and transparency

Panhandle Regional Planning Commission

Original Story

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – According to court documents filed on Tuesday in Amarillo Federal Court, a former employee of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission pleaded guilty to a charge of “Embezzlement by an Agent of an Organization Receiving Federal Funds” after allegedly stealing from a COVID-19 pandemic-era aid program.

Documents from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas Amarillo Division detailed that Josephine Mayorga allegedly confessed that, while employed by the PRPC, she stole around $1,500 in gift cards from the Disaster Gift Card Program.

The PRPC, as noted in court documents, is a political subdivision of the state of Texas that works with local governments in the panhandle to create plans for subjects including water, transportation, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, and solid waste management, among others. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act granted the PRPC funding from March 2020 to March 2021 that allowed for the creation of the Disaster Gift Card Program, which provided $500 gift cards to elderly citizens in the Texas Panhandle with the aim of helping with the financial burdens imposed by the pandemic.

The PRPC’s 2021 report noted that it disbursed 935 gift cards during the program, according to both the report and court documents, which totaled $467,500. However, during an internal PRPC investigation in March 2021, Mayorga allegedly confessed to stealing around $1,500 in gift cards from the program while employed as a Lead Specialist Counselor and Program Specialist.

During further investigation by the Texas Rangers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after PRPC fired Mayorga and reported the situation, court documents said that Mayorga allegedly confessed to, “embezzling, stealing, obtaining by fraud, knowingly converting to her own use, or intentionally misapplying gift cards issued under the Disaster Gift Card Program that were under the care, custody, or control of the PRPC.”

Court documents detailed that Mayorga allegedly issued gift cards under the Disaster Gift Card Program to elderly people, forged acceptance letters for those gift cards, and then used them for her own benefit. The documents noted that bank and expenditure records showed that Mayorga embezzled around 46 gift cards from the program, “with a total aggregate value of $23,000.”

The plea agreement filed on Tuesday detailed that Mayorga could face up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.