Retired police sergeant charged, accused of embezzling $102K

Ray Wood

A retired Hollister police sergeant who was a candidate for
Sheriff in 2010 has been arrested and charged with a felony on
suspicion of embezzling about $102,000 – during a period of more
than six years starting in March 2004 – from the department’s union
over which he presided as president.
A retired Hollister police sergeant who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2010 has been arrested and charged with a felony on suspicion of embezzling about $102,000 – during a period of more than six years starting in March 2004 – from the department’s union over which he presided as president.

Ray Wood, 53, surrendered to custody Thursday afternoon at the San Benito County Jail. He was booked and released on $60,000 bail, according to records at the San Benito County Courthouse.

When reached by cell phone Tuesday, Wood declined to comment and referred all questions to his attorney, Terry Bowman from the San Jose-based law firm Rains Lucia Stern. Bowman did not immediately return a phone message.

The state attorney general’s office filed the grand theft charge last week to coincide with an arrest warrant, according to court records. It followed a five-month probe conducted by an investigator from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, done to prevent a conflict of interest locally.

Outside investigator Terrence Simpson reported the suspected embezzlement occurred between March 2004 and the end of December 2010, when Wood retired from the Hollister Police Department after more than 25 years and handed over union duties he held the prior 14 years. Among the evidence obtained through a search warrant filed March 11 were union checking records, while the local bank’s earliest available documentation came from that March 2004 timeline.

The complaint alleged that Wood was the only person known to oversee the union’s financial matters with San Benito Bank, now called Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. The city routinely withholds union membership dues and then submits a single check to the union.

According to Simpson’s testimony in the complaint: “The majority of the deposit slips showed that some portion of the deposit, ranging from $50 to more than $3,000, was given to the customer by the bank in cash.”

Simpson alleged in a court document filed Monday – the investigator’s statement to accompany the previously filed criminal complaint – that during those six and a half years Wood cashed out $46,147 from check deposits he had made as president of the police union. Simpson further alleged that the former sergeant wrote police union checks to “Ray Wood” – or for cash – which totaled $45,891.

Simpson’s statement went on to accuse Wood of writing “numerous” police union checks totaling $10,407 to individuals unrelated to the organization. One example alleged in the records was a man – the investigator called him a “local petty criminal with a lengthy misdemeanor criminal history” – who received nine checks from the police union. The resident told the investigator he had done “odd jobs” for Wood in the past several years.

In total, the complaint alleged Wood was responsible for more than $102,000 in missing funds from the union account. The figure amounted to more than half of the $187,914 that the union collected in membership dues and fundraising during the stretch, according to the records.

At this point, there are no court dates scheduled besides a hearing for a return on the warrant at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 20 at the San Benito County Courthouse.

While Simpson is the investigator in the case, the attorney general has assigned the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute it. Deputy District Attorney John Chase said he is handling the prosecution, but declined to comment further because “there’s really not much to say” outside the court documents.

As for the investigation, it started earlier this year after Wood handed over union duties upon retirement – about six months after finishing third among four candidates in the county sheriff’s race – and sought to close the old account in favor of a new one. When the search warrant for bank records became public in May, Wood responded about the embezzlement allegation and contended he was not the only officer who controlled the union’s finances.

“There are multiple people that had control over it,” Wood told the Free Lance in May. “We are talking about the whole department. There has to have been hundreds.”

The outside investigator, however, alleged in the recently filed complaint that former colleagues interviewed for the probe said Wood was the only person handling finances. Simpson said he interviewed “nearly a dozen” current and former Hollister police officers.

“All of the witnesses agreed that during the last several years the (Hollister police union) was effectively a one-man show run by its president Ray James Wood,” according to the complaint.

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