The fire marshal of the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District pleaded guilty in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning to stealing more than $63,000 from the district’s firefighters’ association fund. Michael Scott Bechtold, 39, of Rohnert Park, faces up to three years in Sonoma County Jail when he is sentenced Jan. 10, Deputy District Attorney Amy Ariyoshi said.
The thefts occurred between Jan. 1, 2006, and Oct. 21, 2011. Some of the money was spent on San Jose Sharks season tickets and a trip to Disneyland, but Bechtold spent most of the $63,641 on child support and his divorce attorney, Ariyoshi said. The fire district’s association fund contains firefighters’ dues for community projects and charities, Ariyoshi said.
“The Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District wants to get some of the money back and see some kind of penalty,” Ariyoshi said. None of Bechtold’s supporters wanted to comment on the plea agreement this morning outside the courtroom. Bechtold, who also was a fire captain, was charged with six counts of grand theft of more than $400. He pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft in excess of $950.
Assistant Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said Bechtold wrote 45 checks between 2006 and this October. Ariyoshi amended the complaint this morning to include one count of grand theft over the six-year period. “The defendant has the right to be charged with one count of theft as a continuous course of conduct,” Ariyoshi said.
Judge Ken Gnoss also found Bechtold guilty of violating his probation for a 2009 misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.Bechtold could be sentenced to between five years’ probation and three years in the county jail because his conviction is a non-violent offense, Ariyoshi said. The investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office began when the fire association’s board members reported that Bechtold, the association’s treasurer, delayed providing financial reports and had missed several association meetings.
Detectives discovered that Bechtold forged and cashed several of the association’s checks, sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Raasch said. Bechtold was arrested when he admitted taking the money during an interviews on Oct. 26, Raasch said.
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