INDIO, Calif. - Cathedral City's mayor pro tem denied embezzlement charges today at his arraignment for allegedly spending funds from an employee computer loan program on himself.
Charles Frederick Vasquez, 58, is charged with three felony counts of embezzlement by a public officer. He entered his not guilty plea at the Larson Justice Center in Indio and is due back in court on Aug. 14.
Vasquez was arrested April 8 at his Cathedral City home, booked and freed on $50,000 bond. If convicted, he faces up to six years behind bars.
Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall has said the charges involve the alleged misuse of public funds via a Cathedral City program that loans money to city employees and council members to buy desktop computers, laptops or tablets.
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, Hall said.
Investigators determined that from August 2011 through December 2012, Vasquez ``did not properly use the program and instead misappropriated city funds for personal purchases,'' Hall alleged.
He allegedly used 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.
``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.
An affidavit alleges Vasquez twice 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 affidavit, that he didn't use the money 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 referred questions to the district attorney's office.