Retired Hollister police Sgt. Ray Wood suspected of embezzling from union

Ray Wood

Retired Hollister Police Department Sgt. Ray Wood is under
investigation on suspicion of embezzling

tens of thousands of dollars

from his former department’s union account, according to search
warrant documentation filed at the San Benito County
Courthouse.
Retired Hollister Police Department Sgt. Ray Wood is under investigation on suspicion of embezzling “tens of thousands of dollars” from his former department’s union account, according to search warrant documentation filed at the San Benito County Courthouse.

The search warrant was issued March 11 for documents at San Benito Bank as investigators sought account information regarding the Hollister Police Officers Association and the potential for missing money, according to documents filed at the courthouse and obtained Thursday by the Free Lance. Those documents also included the investigator’s statement returned April 5 offering details in the case.

Wood has not been charged or arrested in the matter. When reached by phone Thursday, he said he didn’t know about the investigation.

“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” he said.

Wood, a candidate for San Benito County sheriff in 2010 who was president of the police officers association for more than 14 years, had complete control over the union’s financial accounts, alleged the warrant sought by investigator Terrence Simpson of the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office, asked to investigate the matter by the police department due to a potential conflict of interest.

Wood contended in the Free Lance interview that he was among many others in the department who controlled the finances during his tenure as president and vice president.

“There are multiple people that had control over it,” he said. “We are talking about the whole department – there has to have been hundreds.”

Investigators seized the accounts of Wood, “Ray Wood for Sheriff 2010,” and three others pertaining to the Hollister Police Officers Association in a search of information at San Benito Bank on Tres Pinos Road and the Pacific Capital Bancorp in Goleta. Included in the search were signature cards, statements, deposit slips and checks, according to the search warrant, approved by Judge Steven Sanders.

Wood, 53, was a member of the Hollister Police Department for 28 years before his retirement in 2010.

Association members became suspicious about possible embezzlement after Wood retired at the end of last year and handed over the union account’s financial control, according to the court documents.

About a week before his retirement, Wood had told Officer David Anderson he would hand over control to him. Anderson agreed he would do so until the union elected new leaders.

Wood didn’t turn over any paperwork such as bills and receipts, though, and instead insisted that he didn’t keep good records, according to the court documents. Wood assured Anderson that all bills were up to date and that he had to worry only about three different bills: fees for labor representation from Employee Representation Service, along with membership fees and legal defense fund payments with the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

In late December, Wood and Anderson met in a parking lot to complete the paperwork in transferring over authority of the bank account.

But when Anderson went to the bank Jan. 4 to finish the transfer of authority, the manager told him how Wood wanted to close the old account and start a new one, the court records alleged.

On Jan. 14, Anderson met with Wood and expressed desire to use the existing account, the court documents alleged. Wood refused agreeing to use the existing account because he said there possibly could be checks “floating around” of which he was unaware, according to the warrant.

When the union elected new directors Jan. 19, Wood showed up to the police officers association meeting and argued that the board should “start fresh and not worry about past transactions,” according to the investigator’s narrative in the records. The union, however, agreed to use the existing account.

The following day, according to the court documents, Wood was at a San Benito Bank teller window when Anderson arrived three minutes after it opened. At the bank, Wood and Anderson argued about whether to close the account, and a bank manager decided to freeze it until the union had a chance to produce meeting minutes, according to the warrant.

Anderson returned to the bank that afternoon with the minutes and gained control of the account, according to court records. There, Anderson asked the bank for statements and a list of all checks that were not written for the three primary monthly bills dating back to May 2008.

He received the information, along with a City of Hollister printout of checks regularly issued by the city to the union representing all dues withheld from members’ paychecks – and he noticed that “deposit amounts were almost always less than the check amounts,” according to the court records. Just six of 35 deposit amounts from the time period matched corresponding amounts provided by the city, records alleged.

Anderson found a shortfall in deposits of $15,850.50 over that time frame, according to the records.

Anderson also noted that “many checks” were written to entities aside from the three employee representation groups Wood had cited, the court records alleged.

There were checks totaling $11,214.90 written to other groups unrelated to union activities such as rodeo organizations, according to the warrant.

Wood was the only person to sign all the checks. Many of them were written to “cash” or Ray Wood himself, the court records alleged.

The investigator did note in the statement that many checks written in the 1980s or 1990s, before Wood’s tenure as president, were made payable to “entities other than” the three employee groups, but that those older checks almost always had two signatures.

In responding further to the Free Lance, Wood said that the board of directors – consisting of three to five members – made all of the transactions.

“They made the decisions,” he said. “I just carried them out.”

Current police union President Sgt. George Ramirez, however, told the investigator that the board of directors had fallen apart “sometime in the early 2000s” and how Wood “has been HPOAI’s sole representative,” according to the court filing.

Ramirez also recalled to the investigator that in early March, he spoke with Wood on the phone – and that Wood told him he had destroyed police union records, other than those dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, by “tearing them up or shredding them,” according to the court records.

Ramirez alleged to the investigator that Wood refused to answer questions about it other than saying “that looking into the bank records will ‘hurt’ a lot of people” and warning him “not to open a ‘Pandora’s box,'” according to the court filing.

Wood said he never had the sole responsibility of controlling the union’s financial records, and that other people had the ability to pay bills and deposit money.

“I did it sometimes, and others did it sometimes,” he said.

He declined to comment when asked why he wanted to transfer accounts. He said it “wasn’t his place” to comment because he had retired.

When asked to comment, Police Capt. David Westrick referred questions to a representative – other than Simpson – at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. That person could not be reached immediately.

The investigation comes less than a year after Wood, 53, was one of four sheriff candidates in the June primary election aiming to replace former Sheriff Curtis Hill. In the election, Wood advertised himself as a police veteran and a lifelong county resident. He finished third in the race won by Darren Thompson.

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