Former Probation Chief May Face Charges

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Gila County Attorney Jerry DeRose said he expects to file charges in the next two weeks against former Chief Probation Officer Robert "Rocky" Castaneda -- a 16-year county employee who resigned in October amidst allegations of misuse of public funds.


"The case is waiting to be charged," DeRose said Thursday. "The investigation was done by the Department of Public Safety, and everything is basically ready to go."


The allegations stem from a three- to four- month period last summer, when Castaneda is accused of taking advantage of a county credit card. Castaneda's card carried a credit limit of $7,500.


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


DeRose said records show that Castaneda also rented cars with the credit card, then charged the county mileage on that car.


"Then there were other instances, like collecting money to buy Diamondback tickets for employees, paying for the tickets with the credit card, then keeping the money," DeRose said.


The allegations came to light in July, when the county finance department was trying to close out records for the 1998-99 fiscal year. That year-end closeout was delayed due to missing reports from Castenda and a few other employees.


The county finance department started a string of e-mail correspondence with Castaneda in July, requesting the missing reports and reconciled credit card statements. Excerpts of that correspondence, which continued for three months, demonstrates the finance department's growing frustration and alarm.


Aug. 27, from Finance Director John Nelson: "Rocky, These statements need to be cleared immediately, or I will cancel credit cards."


• Sept. 1, from Gloria Aguirre, assistant finance director: "Rocky, We need your June statement. Gloria."


• Sept. 2, from Castaneda to Aguirre: "I finished it yesterday, but I am still missing a couple of receipts. I'm calling the hotel this morning to get copies faxed to me."


•Sept. 22, from Nelson: "Rocky, A heads-up on your credit card. We still don't have receipts for your credit card bills. According to policy, if the bills are still outstanding on Oct. 1, finance will:

1. cancel your credit card; 2. not authorize cash advances, and 3. start withholding the amount charged on your credit card from your paycheck. Let's not go there."


•Oct. 4, from County Administrator Steve Besich: "Rocky, I am imploring you to help me out. I have just reviewed your submission. Quite honestly, I cannot make heads or tails of it."


In early October, the Arizona Department of Public Safety's Inspections and Control Unit was called in to investigate. During the investigation, Castaneda resigned his $57,000-a-year job with the county.


Two months later, after inspectors wrapped up their investigation, Castaneda was interviewed by DPS officials. Transcripts of that interview revealed that Castaneda admitted that he has a gambling problem, and that he had exhausted the $10,000 credit limits on both of his personal credit cards.

Castaneda told inspectors it was not uncommon for him to receive his paycheck, then immediately gamble it away, leaving him about $20 until the next paycheck.


"Castaneda stated that because of his gambling problem, he always believed he would win and pay back any funds he owed either to personal bills or to Gila County," the transcript said.


Castaneda could not be reached for comment.


Since the discovery of the credit card abuses, county officials have cracked down on reporting procedures.


"We've become much more stringent on the reporting requirements," Nelson said. "If people do not turn in their documentation, we're quicker to cancel credit cards. One of the problems we had with Rocky was the promise of 'I'll have this in next week. I'll have this in next week. I'll have this in next week.' It obviously carried on too long. That will not happen again."


DeRose said his office also will help deter future abuses by continuing its policy of zero tolerance.

"As long as I'm in this office, I take an unforgiving position in these cases," DeRose said.

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