A falsified abandoned vehicle report led to the termination of a Payson police officer in December of 2011, the Payson Roundup has learned.
Mark Hillegas lost his post after he reportedly transported a motorcycle from the Valley and claimed it had been deserted on his property, according to town records.
Police Chief Don Engler wrote in Hillegas’ termination letter that Hillegas repeatedly lied on the Motor Vehicle Division abandoned vehicle report and furthermore, failed to realize the error of his ways even after the investigation was complete.
Hillegas had 10 days to appeal the Dec. 15 firing, but did not. Hillegas could face a misdemeanor charge of false swearing.
Hillegas initially informed Engler Sept. 12 that he was filing the abandoned vehicle report for a 1984 Harley Davidson motorcycle.
When Engler reviewed the DMV documents, he noticed Hillegas had used his birth mother, a DMV employee, to notarize the document on June 10.
Additionally, a Payson detective had completed the abandoned vehicle inspection.
Engler had Sgt. Don Kasl research the matter, which took several months.
“Following the completion of the internal investigation, it was determined that you had removed the motorcycle in question from a residence in Gilbert ... This was done following an agreement with Jared Smith, your brother-in-law,” Engler wrote.
Smith had reportedly bought the motorcycle, with a title out of Washington State, off Craig’s List for $3,000.
Smith had attempted to title the vehicle into his name, but a Valley DMV denied the application due to a title discrepancy, Engler wrote.
“You then made an agreement with Smith to bring the motorcycle to Payson and attempt to title it in Payson,” Engler wrote. “You further entered into an agreement with Smith that you would be given the motorcycle if you properly titled it and were able to solve the mechanical issues with the motorcycle.”
If Hillegas sold the cycle, he would split the money with Smith, Engler wrote.
When Hillegas filed the abandoned vehicle paperwork, Engler said he provided false information to five questions, including whether the vehicle was abandoned on his property and whether it was given to him as a gift.
“You marked the answer to this question as ‘no,’” Engler wrote. “Even upon detailed questioning, you had difficulty understanding the fact that the vehicle was provided to you and you were going to receive benefit, or in essence, a gift of the vehicle, and/or use of the vehicle.”
Engler said Hillegas had several opportunities in the report to explain the situation surrounding the motorcycle, but did not.
Not doing so, raised the question of whether Hillegas understood the law, Engler wrote.
“It raises concerns regarding your ability to interpret other aspects of the law or other areas where the law may not be a ‘bright line’ issue,” he said.
Furthermore, Hillegas used his mother, Mary Fontinel, to notarize the document and had Det. Matt Van Camp complete the vehicle inspection.
“These last two decisions show poor judgment on your part,” Engler wrote.
“The first poor decision was utilizing your mother as the notary on this document and further confusing the situation by her utilizing her notary public seal on this document rather than utilizing an MVD seal,” he said.
The Roundup contacted Fontinel at the DMV, but she had no comment.
Van Camp was not aware of the problem surrounding the motorcycle title when he did the inspection, Engler said.
Since this incident, the police department has implemented a new policy where employees cannot complete a vehicle inspection for another employee. Instead, an employee of the DMV or another agency should do it, Engler said.
Hillegas could still face a misdemeanor charge of false swearing.
Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said her office is reviewing the matter, but “there is nothing further I can discuss on the Hillegas matter at this time.”
“There has been no request for charges at this time as to Mary Fontinel,” she said.
Beyond criminal charges, this incident casts doubt on Hillegas’ credibility if he were ever called to testify in court. Engler discussed this issue with the Gila County attorney’s office and the Town of Payson legal department and they agreed the information from this investigation would be disclosed to defense attorneys in any case Hillegas is called as a witness.
“The officers of the Payson Police Department are clearly held to a higher standard than civilian citizens and I am aware of other cases in which citizens of our community have been charged with crimes for similar violations,” Engler wrote in Hillegas’ termination letter.
The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, which issues officer certifications, has yet to rule on this incident.