Rancho Adobe Fire official pleads guilty to grand theft in embezzlement case

A Rancho Adobe firefighter 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, who was a fire district captain, was accused of writing 45 unauthorized checks from the Rancho Adobe Paid Fire Fighters Association checking 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.

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