Fire captain gets 1-year jail term for embezzlement

  • 10/29/2011: B1:

    PC: Michael Bechtold in court, October 28, 2011.

The Rancho Adobe fire captain who embezzled more than $63,000 from his union to cover personal expenses including a trip to Disneyland and San Jose Sharks season tickets was sentenced Tuesday to a year in county jail.

Michael Scott Bechtold, 39, of Rohnert Park, sobbed as Judge Kenneth Gnoss meted out the punishment for the theft, which occurred over a five-year period while Bechtold was treasurer of the firefighters association.

Gnoss ordered Bechtold, who was on misdemeanor probation for a domestic violence conviction at the time of his arrest, to also repay the money and serve five years' probation.

"You certainly have punished yourself in the public eye," Gnoss told Bechtold, who was dressed in a blue jail uniform. "You can't go back to the fire department. That must be sort of painful."

Bechtold, a firefighter for 20 years, did not speak. But his lawyer, Kathleen Pozzi, said he was embarrassed and remorseful.

In a letter to the judge, Bechtold said he stole the money to pay off "never-ending debt" that followed his divorce and orders to make child-support payments. He said his plan was to slowly pay back the money after he reestablished himself.

Bechtold asked to be released on probation or given electronic home confinement.

"I had no intention of hurting anybody," he said in a Probation Department report. "I just want to start my life over."

But prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi said he seemed more sorry for himself than the victims – 11 employees of the Rancho Adobe Firefighters Association.

She backed a probation recommendation that he serve 12 months in jail followed by probation.

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