Ex-Probation Chief To Stand Trial For Theft

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The trial of former Gila County probation chief Robert "Rocky" Castaneda was set for Oct. 24, following his rejection of a plea agreement Friday in Gila County Superior Court.

A 16-year county employee, Castaneda resigned last fall amid allegations of misusing public funds. He was later charged with 21 crimes including theft, forgery, pergery, fraudulent schemes and artifices, and misuse of public funds.

"Basically, what he had done was use his county (credit) card to get money out of the (automated teller machine) for gambling," DeRose said. "We're looking at about $15,000 over a period of a few months."

Discrepancies were first discovered in July of 1999, when the county finance department was wrapping up its year-end figures. That year-end audit was continually delayed due to missing reports from Castaneda and a few other employees. Repeated attempts to collect the missing reports failed, and by October, the county called in the Arizona Department of Public Safety's Inspections and Control Unit to investigate. During that investigation, the probation chief resigned his $57,000-a-year job with the county.

DeRose offered Castaneda a plea bargain. In exchange for a guilty plea, DeRose offered the defendant a sentence range of 1 to 3.75 years in prison, a maximum fine of $15,000 and $20,000 in restitution. Friday, Castaneda rejected the plea, and the case has been set for trial.

"I think he's really just trying to avoid prison," DeRose said. "But, as long as I'm in office, there will be mandatory prison time for anyone, I don't care who you are, that's found guilty of stealing from the county."

Castaneda's attorney, Anna Ortiz, was unavailable for comment.

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