Former employee pleads not guilty to Palm Springs embezzlement

Accused of buying vehicle parts with city funds

INDIO, Calif. - A former Palm Springs city employee who allegedly used about $25,000 worth of city equipment for personal use pleaded not guilty to embezzlement Tuesday.

Steven Dewayne Rakestraw, 45, the city's former fleet services manager, is accused of purchasing vehicle parts using city funds and using a tractor registered to and owned by Palm Springs for personal use.

Between March 17 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.

Read: Former Palm Springs City employee charged with embezzlement

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, who remains free on $25,000 bail and is set to return to court Jan. 26 for a felony settlement conference.

"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 

Read: Former Beaumont official admits guilt in corruption case

The presence of district attorney's investigators at City Hall drew public attention, with their investigation 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 into Rakestraw was independent of the case against Pougnet, Wessman and Meaney, who have each pleaded not guilty to a litany of felony counts.

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