Judge denies motion to overturn indictment against Vasquez

INDIO, Calif. - A judge has denied a defense motion to overturn a grand jury indictment charging a Cathedral City councilman with embezzling funds from an employee loan program.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles Stafford scheduled a Sept.
15 trial date for Cathedral City Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frederick Vasquez, who was arrested April 8, 2013, and later indicted on three felony counts of
embezzlement by a public officer.

Defense attorney Ruben Sanchez argued that the indictment should be
overturned because the prosecution didn't tell the grand jury that a city
administrator who testified against Vasquez had been indicted in federal court on a charge of receiving a stolen and altered check made out to a taxpayer ``with the intent to convert the property to her own use.''

``Because (she) was indicted for a similar charge to Mr. Vasquez, the
grand jury had a right to be informed of this indictment against her, insomuch that it would aid them in ascertaining the validity of what she was testifying to,'' Sanchez wrote in his motion.

Deputy District Attorney William Robinson countered that prosecutors didn't know Tami Scott had been indicted until last April, and evidence of her subsequent conviction ``would not have established that Mr. Vasquez did not commit the offenses because there was evidence presented independent of (her) that implicates Mr. Vasquez in the crimes alleged.''

An asset protection manager at Sam's Club in Palm Desert pulled records
for Vasquez's Sam's Club purchases, and found that the dates matched the dates when he invoiced the city for purchases of computer items, according to the prosecutor. He said an October 2011 summary showed that Vasquez returned a computer and bought items such as T-shirts and food.

Robinson argued that even if the grand jury had learned of the administrator's felony conviction and had disregarded her testimony, the Sam's Club employee's testimony about Vasquez's purchases of personal items implicated him.

Additionally, he argued that Vasquez's reputed admission to a Riverside
County District Attorney's investigator that he used the city loan program to
buy personal items also proves the alleged crimes.

The charges against Vasquez, 59, involve the alleged misuse of public funds provided by a Cathedral City program that loans money to city employees
and council members to buy desktop computers, laptops or tablets, according to the District Attorney's Office.

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, District
Attorney's spokesman John Hall has said.

The prosecution alleges that from August 2011 through December 2012,
Vasquez ``did not properly use the program and instead misappropriated city funds for personal purchases,'' Hall said. The councilman allegedly used part of the funds for computer purchases and part for unauthorized personal items.

In December 2012, Vasquez 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, pocketing the difference.

Vasquez is free on a $50,000 bond and faces up to six years behind bars if convicted.

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