Chuck Vasquez, the Cathedral City councilman who pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from an employee loan program, was sentenced to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service on Friday.
The 59 year old pleaded guilty to three felony counts of embezzlement along with two misdemeanor counts of grand theft and filing false documents in September.
In September, Vasquez agreed to a plea deal that dropped the felony counts, but he had to resign from city council by September 22 as a part of the deal. Vazquez resigned on September 18.
He was running for reelection but came in fourth in a seven-candidate field for two council seats.
At Friday’s hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins
also dismissed a grand jury indictment against Vasquez, who will serve 300
hours of community service at ShareKitchen in Cathedral City as part of his
“Mr. Vasquez doesn’t believe he was guilty of these crimes. But in order to take advantage of the offer from the (prosecution), he decided not to
pursue this any further and take advantage of the (prosecution’s) offer of
misdemeanors,” defense attorney Ruben Sanchez said outside court.
He said Vasquez didn’t owe restitution because he’d already repaid the
roughly $2,500 in loans to the program.
Deputy District Attorney William Robinson said he thought “we reached a
fair result.” He said Vasquez could run for office in the future.
Vasquez, who also served as Cathedral City’s mayor pro tem, was elected
in 2005. He could have faced up to eight years behind bars had he gone to trial and been convicted, or if he had failed to resign as mandated by the plea agreement, according to Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall.
The charges against Vasquez involved the misuse of public funds provided
by a Cathedral City program that loans money to city employees and council
members to buy desktop computers, laptops or tablets, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Loans are made at 6 percent interest, and employees can pay for equipment through payroll deductions. Employees get an invoice or price quote from a vendor and are then given a city check to use for the purchase.
The prosecution alleged that from August 2011 through December 2012,
Vasquez “did not properly use the program and instead misappropriated city funds for personal purchases,” Hall said. The councilman used part of the funds for computer purchases and part for unauthorized personal items,
according to the prosecution.
In December 2012, Vasquez was given a city credit card so he could buy a
laptop and a tablet, but he used it to buy more than $2,000 in prepaid
MasterCard gift cards, according to Hall.
“On previous occasions, Vasquez submitted fraudulent invoices under the
loan program and then used the loan proceeds to purchase unapproved personal items in addition to some computer equipment,” Hall said.
According to prosecutors, an asset protection manager at Sam’s Club in
Palm Desert pulled records for Vasquez’s Sam’s Club purchases, and found that the dates matched the dates when he invoiced the city for purchases of computer items.
An October 2011 summary showed that Vasquez returned a computer and
bought items such as T-shirts and food.