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Rancho Adobe Fire Captain suspected of embezzling $63,000

Published: Friday, October 28, 2011 at 9:07 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 at 9:07 a.m.

A Rancho Adobe Fire Captain was accused of embezzling more than $63,000 from the fire protection district's union.

Michael Bechtold, 39, was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of forging and cashing checks as treasurer of the Rancho Adobe Protection District's union account, Sonoma County sheriff's officials said.

The Rohnert Park resident allegedly used the funds to pay for housing, season tickets to Sharks hockey games and a trip to Disneyland.

Bechtold serves as the department's fire marshal and has worked for the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District for at least 15 years, Fire Chief Frank Treanor said.

“I'm saddened,” said Treanor, reached by phone Thursday. “You work with these people and you see the great work that they do.”

Prosecutors Friday are expected to charge Bechtold with embezzlement, grand theft, forgery and violating the terms of his probation from a prior misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. He's being held without bail.

Bechtold's peers became suspicious after the Rohnert Park man delayed providing financial audits to the association board, Sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary said.

“He began stalling and not showing up for meetings,” O'Leary said.

Bechtold eventually furnished a financial report that appeared fraudulent, prompting board members to check the books, said O'Leary. The account had been nearly drained, he said.

They alerted the Sheriff's Office on Monday, O'Leary said.

Bechtold was on probation following a 2009 misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, said Sgt. Michael Raasch with the property crimes unit.

Detectives confronted Bechtold early Wednesday at a scheduled appointment with a probation officer where he admitted to taking the funds, Raasch said.

The funds came from Rancho Adobe firefighter dues to the Local 1401 of the International Association of Fire Fighters Association. The local association includes Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley firefighters, however each department keeps separate bank accounts, the chief said.

The district provides fire services for 86 square miles that include Cotati, Penngrove and unincorporated Petaluma. The department has 15 full-time staff, 15 part-time firefighters and six volunteer firefighters, according to its website.

The case is among several embezzlement Sonoma County embezzlement cases this year.

-- Eleanor Zapanta, 51, of Guerneville, is accused of stealing $712,000 over a six-year period while working as business manager of the Center for Spiritual Living. She was arrested last month and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

-- Sheila Accornero, 42, of Cloverdale is accused of stealing nearly $400,000 by forging checks over a two-year period while working as business manager of Kid Street Learning Center in Santa Rosa.

-- Kyle Hoffman, 38, of Healdsburg was convicted of embezzling $58,312 from the Healdsburg youth soccer league where he served as league president. He was sentenced to nine months in jail in August after failing to meet restitution requirements imposed by the court.

Anyone with information about the case can call Sheriff's Det. Tony King at 565-2185.

— By JULIE JOHNSON, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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