Former County Fire Department employee Robert Joseph Perez, (left) with attorney Steve Balash, pleads not guilty to embezzlement charges (Oct. 1, 2013)
Paul Wellman
Robert Perez

Former Santa Barbara County Fire Department employee Robert Perez pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of felony grand theft and felony tax evasion for alleging stealing money from his firefighters union between 2006 and 2012.

Before retiring earlier this year, Perez was the union’s insurance administrator; the union discovered the alleged theft — approximately $114,000, according to Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota — while conducting an audit in March. Perez turned himself in in August after an investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and was later released on his own recognizance by Judge Thomas Adams.

According to union president Adam Estabrook, Perez worked for the department for more than 20 years, eight of which were spent as insurance administrator, an elected position. Perez’s lawyer, Steve Balash, said his client has been cooperating with the Sheriff’s Department and that the case stems from “a lot of misunderstanding on both sides.”

Cota said Perez could face up to eight years in prison if convicted. His preliminary hearing is set for October 16.


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