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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Sheriff's Deputy Ordered to Stand Trial in Theft From Cash Box

Court: A videotape allegedly shows the 28-year-old taking money four times at the Oak View Resource Center.

November 11, 1998|TRACY WILSON and TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura County sheriff's deputy accused of stealing money from a community police storefront was bound over for trial Tuesday after a judge found the officer's conduct "extremely serious."

Deputy Paul Tinoco was caught on videotape allegedly taking a total of $56 from the Oak View Resource Center on four occasions last June. The 28-year-old officer has been charged with two counts of felony burglary and two counts of misdemeanor theft.

During the preliminary hearing, defense attorney William Hadden asked the judge to reduce all the charges to misdemeanors given the small amount of money taken.

"This is much more likely an incident where the defendant is engaged in a cry for help rather than a felony burglary," Hadden argued.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Carpenter told the judge that Tinoco violated the public's trust by repeatedly stealing money from the department's cash box. Municipal Judge Herbert Curtis agreed and held Tinoco to answer on the felony and misdemeanor charges at a Dec. 4 arraignment.

The prosecution called two witnesses during Tuesday's hearing, both deputies assigned to investigate a series of thefts at the tiny community storefront tucked between a dry cleaner and a coffee shop along California 33.

Mark Burgess, the youth and community affairs officer for the Ojai Valley area, told the judge that the department launched an investigation after volunteers noticed money missing from the cash box. The resource center collects fees for fingerprinting and other services.

Burgess said he helped install a hidden camera--disguised as a smoke detector--to catch the thief. On four occasions between June 4 and 16, he testified, the man seen on tape taking money was identified as Tinoco.

Lead investigator Michael Horne testified that on one of the tapes, Tinoco was seen wiping down the cash box and counter with a damp paper towel.

Horne said that on June 16, he confronted Tinoco at the Ojai substation and asked him about $12 in marked bills that had been taken earlier in the day from the resource center.

Horne said Tinoco handed over cash bills that matched those marked by the department.

Tinoco, who was placed on paid administrative leave after his June arrest, left the department in July. Sheriff's Capt. Keith Parks declined to say, however, whether the deputy was fired or had resigned.

Although authorities said they were not happy about seeing a deputy go to trial, Parks emphasized that the arrest shows there will be no preferential treatment for department members who break the law.

"The bottom line is, if we conduct an investigation and find one of our members is a suspect, we're going to deal with it," Parks said. But he was quick to add that the arrest should not cast a shadow on other deputies.

"That's one individual out of almost 1,300 employees who remain committed to upholding the law, to serving the community," Parks said. "They are honest, dedicated, they have integrity. Let's not loose sight of all those people. We're fortunate to have them work for the Sheriff's Department."

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