The former mayor and bookkeeper of the small city of La Grulla pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges they used federal grant money to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in psychic consultations.
Diana Cortez, the former mayor, and Sandra Lopez, the former bookkeeper, both pleaded guilty to theft. Each faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine at their Jan. 18 sentencing.
An indictment unsealed Aug. 31 alleged that Cortez, 48, and Lopez, 45, withdrew $53,700 between May 2002 and May 2003 to pay for consultations that included the use of tarot cards.
Cortez was mayor between May 2001 and May 2003. Lopez was bookkeeper during the administration and was responsible for accounts receivable.
During that time, the city got about $410,000 in grants through the federal department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program.
The grants were meant to encourage community development, affordable housing, and home ownership for the city, which has about 400 families with a median income of about $16,400.
Prosecutors said the money instead went into the city’s general fund and was tapped for the psychic payments.
According to the indictment, Cortez approved 23 checks between $1,000 and $3,500 to a man named Cesar Macias as well as to fictional businesses including “Macias Contractor,” “Macias Machinery & Supply Company Contractor,” and “Macias Equipment Company.”
Mexican border communities are sprinkled with shops for folk healers, known as curanderas, many of whom advertise psychic services such as tarot card readings.