Chuck Vasquez appears in court

INDIO, Calif. -

Cathedral City's mayor pro tem appeared in court today on embezzlement charges for allegedly using funds from the city's employee computer loan program for personal purchases, but delayed entering a plea until he secures legal representation.

Charles Frederick Vasquez, 58, is charged with three felony counts of embezzlement by a public officer.  He appeared at the Larson Justice Center in Indio before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Victoria E. Cameron, who agreed to reschedule arraignment to June 25.

Vasquez was arrested April 8 at his Cathedral City home and booked at the county jail in Indio, then posted a $50,000 bond. If convicted, he faces up to six years behind bars.

Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said the charges involve alleged misuse of city funds through a Cathedral City program that loans money to city employees and council members so they can buy desktop computers, laptops or tablets.

The program provides a loan at 6 percent interest and allows employees to make payroll deductions to repay the loan. They receive an invoice or price quote from a vendor and are then given a city check to use for the purchase, Hall said.

Investigators determined that from August 2011 through December 2012, Vasquez allegedly "did not properly use the program and instead misappropriated city funds for personal purchases," Hall said.

He would allegedly use part of the funds for computer purchases and part for unauthorized personal items. In December 2012, he was given a city credit card so he could buy a laptop and a tablet, but he allegedly 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 alleged.

A declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant alleges that Vasquez on two occasions returned a computer or equipment and bought lower priced personal items, keeping the change.

He allegedly told district attorney's Investigator Matthew Weinstein, who wrote the declaration, that he didn't use the funds to buy a computer, "acknowledged his previous returns and exchanges, and admitted he did not return remaining funds to the city."

Cathedral City Mayor Kathy DeRosa said Vasquez was elected in 2005. She and City Manager Andy Hall have referred questions to the district attorney's office.

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