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Former Palm Springs City employee charged with embezzlement

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - A former Palm Springs city employee has been charged with embezzlement for allegedly using about $25,000 worth of city equipment for personal use.

Steven Dewayne Rakestraw, 44, the city's former fleet services manager, was charged Thursday for allegedly purchasing vehicle parts using city funds and stealing a tractor registered to and owned by Palm Springs.

Between March 17, 2016 and May 19, 2016, prosecutors allege that Rakestraw ``misused city funds'' by having work done on his personal vehicles, including using parts purchased with city funds, painting his vehicles and having maintenance performed on his vehicles.

D.A.'s investigators also saw Rakestraw allegedly in possession of one of the city's tractors when they served a search warrant at one of his properties, an arrest warrant declaration states. He allegedly tried to hide the tractor by driving it to a neighbor's home when investigators arrived, 
according to the declaration.

City officials announced last July that two employees had been fired after being investigated for theft of a city vehicle, as well as conducting unneeded vehicle repairs and parts purchases. So far, charges have only been filed against Rakestraw.

"As public servants, we must vigilantly safeguard public resources; it is deeply disappointing to learn when employees are found to disregard that public trust,'' City Manager David Ready said in a statement last year. ``In this case, we are pleased that our internal `checks and balances' worked to uncover the discrepancy. Also, we continue to encourage employees to come 
forward with any information of wrongdoing.

"As city manager for 16 years, I personally witness high standards of ethical conduct from members of the city team on a daily basis. I want our residents to know the actions of a few employees does not reflect the diligent and ethical work done every day by our dedicated staff in the duty of public 
service.''

The presence of District Attorney's investigators at City Hall drew public attention, with their investigation into the employees occurring shortly after authorities raided City Hall, eventually leading to bribery and perjury charges filed against former Mayor Steve Pougnet and local developers John Wessman and Richard Meaney. The developers are accused of paying Pougnet nearly $375,000 over a three-year period for his votes on upcoming development 
projects before the city council.

The District Attorney's Office emphasized that the investigation was independent of the case against Pougnet, Wessman and Meaney, who each pleaded not guilty to a litany of felony counts Friday afternoon.

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