EL DORADO COUNTY (CBS13) – A retired El Dorado County Sheriff’s deputy was arrested Thursday, accused of stealing more than $300,000 over a six-year span from his own association, according to officials.
Former El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) president Donald Atkinson was arrested on 44 felony counts, including embezzlement by public or private officer, grand theft, forgery and perjury, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris and El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson, who announced the arrest Thursday.
They say Atkinson falsified documents, submitted forged documents to DSA and pocketed checks he claimed were going to charities.
According to the criminal complaint, Atkinson provided falsified records indicating that checks for more than $20,000 were written for charitable purposes, including a donation for the families of four murdered Oakland police officers. None of the named organizations and individuals received donations from either Atkinson or the DSA.
The complaint also alleges Atkinson signed several checks drawn from the DSA fund that were used to pay rent for a woman with whom he was having a relationship.
Atkinson was a 17-year veteran of the force who last worked as a patrol supervisor in the South Lake Tahoe office. He retired as a sergeant.
“He was a friend, a co-worker, a colleague. It’s obvious that all of us are feeling very betrayed that someone who we trusted with our lives went ahead and stole from us,” said current association president Todd Crawford.
Longtime friend Chuck Holland has a hard time believing the charges.
“Don has always been a straight-up, honest, just straight-as-an-arrow friend, loyal,” he said. “Just a really good guy.”
Investigators say the scheme began unraveling after Atkinson stepped down as association president in 2010 and a bookkeeper noticed suspicious activity.
“At that point we as a board decided to hire an outside auditor to look at our accounts,” Crawford said.
Atkinson retired in September 2011, just three days before a DSA internal audit was released showing hundreds of thousands of dollars missing.
That report became the key piece of evidence that prompted a joint investigation culminating in his arrest Thursday morning.
Atkinson is also accused of taking $100,000 from an elder or dependent adult. The victim loaned $100,000 to Atkinson to purchase a photography business from a man with cancer. Atkinson had falsified information in the contract he signed, and bank records indicate that none of the victim’s funds were spent for the purpose Atkinson had claimed, according to the complaint.
“Obviously all members of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, and specifically, the members of the El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff’s Association feel very betrayed as would any other victim of such a crime,” Sheriff John D’Agostini said in a statement after the arrest was announced.