Rancho Adobo Fire official pleads guilty to grand theft in embezzlement case
Published: Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.
A Rancho Adobe Fire District official pleaded guilty Monday to a single count of grand theft in the embezzlement of more than $63,000 from the firefighters' union.
Michael Scott Bechtold, 39, will be sentenced to no more than three years in Sonoma County jail at his Jan. 10 sentencing.
Bechtold, a former fire district captain, was accused of writing 45 unauthorized checks from the Local 1401 of the International Association of Fire Fighters Association account from 2006 to October of this year when he was union treasurer.
An investigation revealed most of the money was spent on a divorce attorney and child support payments, prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi said.
It was unclear just how much of it was used for a trip to Disneyland and for the purchase of San Jose Sharks season tickets, Ariyoshi said.
“Obviously, most of it went to pay his bills,” Ariyoshi said outside court.
Bechtold's lawyer, assistant public defender Kathleen Pozzi, said she will ask that Bechtold receive probation. He was on misdemeanor probation for a 2009 domestic violence conviction at the time of his arrest and has no other criminal record, she said.
Ariyoshi said she has not decided yet whether she will seek the maximum but she will ask for full restitution for the firefighters union. None of the money has been recovered, she said.
“They just want to get the money back and they want him to get some type of penalty,” Ariyoshi.
Prosecutors had originally charged Bechtold with six counts of felony grand theft - one count for each year of the embezzlement. With the plea bargain, all of his conduct will be covered under a single count of grand theft by way of embezzlement. The other charges will be dismissed at sentencing.
Bechtold was a 15-year fire district employee and served as fire marshal. His peers became suspicious after he delayed providing the union board with financial audits.
He was arrested Oct. 26 after detectives confronted him at a scheduled probation meeting.
On Monday, he said “Yes,” when asked by Judge Ken Gnoss if he understood his right to a trial and said “Guilty” when asked for his plea.
No one from the fire district was in court but a half-dozen Bechtold supporters watched from the audience including his girlfriend, who also is a fire district employee, Pozzi said.
She declined to comment outside court.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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