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Former Deputy Caught in Sting Pleads Not Guilty to Stealing


A former San Diego County sheriff's deputy pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of stealing money from three people, including one investigator involved in a sting operation.

Samuel Gene Priest, 28, is charged with two felonies--misappropriation of public funds and embezzlement. However, both charges, which stem from a June 10 sting operation, relate to the same crime of failing to return money that had been given to him, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Rooten.

"We had an undercover law enforcement officer give him a wallet with money in it," according to Rooten, who said the funds were never returned.

Priest, a five-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, was arrested June 11, the day after the undercover operation was conducted. Prosecutors did not file charges in the case until Oct. 7.

Priest also faces three misdemeanor charges of petty theft, one of which involves the sting operation.

Officials began to investigate Priest after two North County residents complained that Priest had stolen from them.

"These involve traffic stops of two individuals who allege that the defendant took money from them," Rooten said.

If convicted of all charges, Priest would face a maximum sentence of five years in state prison, according to Rooten.

Another former sheriff's deputy, James Patrick Beaty, was arrested the same day as Priest after a separate undercover investigation. Both Priest and Beaty worked at the Vista patrol station.

Beaty has not been charged, even though prosecutors say their investigation is continuing.

Priest is free on his own recognizance. Municipal Court Judge Nicholas Kasimatis set a preliminary hearing for Nov. 2.

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