By Clarissa Aljentera and Julia Reynolds
The Monterey County Herald
SALINAS, Calif. — A longtime Salinas policeman and former Alisal High School soccer coach was charged Thursday with embezzling more than a third of the Police Activities League's annual budget.
Gilbert Bacis Jr., 42, pleaded not guilty Thursday when he was arraigned on charges of embezzlement and second-degree burglary. He was released without bail on his own recognizance.
Court records show that Bacis had a long history of financial troubles before the embezzlement allegations were filed.
He is accused of skimming the funds from PAL accounts between November 2006 and July 2007 while he was executive director of the program's Salinas chapter.
"I can't tell you the amount of shame and embarrassment he feels as a result of these charges," his attorney, Tom Worthington, said after Thursday's arraignment.
The amount embezzled was "between $35,000 and $45,000," Worthington said, and, without admitting guilt, he said Bacis intends to pay back the amount in full. Worthington did indicate that Bacis' not guilty plea was more a legal formality than a denial of guilt.
Asked if Bacis had been struggling financially, Worthington declined to comment, nor did he indicate what Bacis may have done with the money.
But court records tell a story of years of financial struggle for Bacis and his wife Marian, including a $15,234 federal tax lien incurred in 2006 that only weeks ago was recorded by the IRS as paid off.
Bacis had money problems dating as far back as 1998, when records show he declared bankruptcy, owing money to dozens of creditors that included banks, department stores, mortgage companies and a health club, as well as state and federal tax collectors.
The financial difficulties continued through the years, records show, and in 2004, Bacis' wages were garnished to cover debts of nearly $6,000. Suits and tax liens totalling tens of thousands of dollars continued to follow him into this year, records show.
Worthington said his client and he were working toward "an early resolution" of the case without going to trial, and said Bacis has been "forthright" with authorities once he was notified of the pending charges against him.
Worthington requested no bail Thursday, he said, so Bacis could use as much money as possible toward payment of restitution.
Worthington said he had negotiated with prosecutor Ed Hazel for Bacis to remain free before his arraignment.
Bacis wanted the case to move quickly through the courts, Worthington said, because he wanted "no appearance of special treatment" due to his being a Salinas police officer for nearly 20 years. Bacis joined the Salinas force in 1988 after three years with the Gilroy Police Department.
On the Salinas force, Bacis most recently worked in the internal affairs unit, the same department that investigated his alleged embezzlement after a routine audit of PAL finances uncovered problems this summer.
Shortly after his promotion to executive director of PAL, money began disappearing from the program, Salinas Deputy Police Chief Cassie McSorley said.
The treasurer of the Salinas Police Athletics League noticed discrepancies in the budget and the official investigation began Aug. 17. It concluded Aug. 24, when Bacis was put on paid administrative leave, said McSorley, although Bacis' attorney said his client was told of pending charges as early as July.
The police athletics league is run as a separate entity from the police department, McSorley said.
Investigators know how the money was taken and what it was used for, McSorley said, though she did not disclose the information, citing an ongoing investigation.
"No program's lost funding," McSorley said. "We're interested in seeking restitution."
The program's budget is estimated at $100,000.
Ruben Guajardo, president of PAL, said he was shocked about the news.
"Naturally, none of the people on the board expected this," he said. "With the board of directors, we place trust in each other."
The program's executive director, program director and treasurer are the only ones who have access to the accounts.
The 16-year-old program assists about 2,000 children each year in sports programs and social activities and is financed by grants and fundraising events.
"I hope people don't stop donating," Guajardo said. "I'm hoping one person's action doesn't deter people."
Parents involved in the program had not been notified by Thursday, but Guajardo said he would work to let families know of Bacis' departure.
Throughout his years of money trouble, Bacis continued an extensive record of community service. He served as a varsity boys' soccer coach at Alisal High School for 12 years until 2004, when one of his former students, Jesus Sanchez, took over as coach.
"We never had any problems or questions about his honesty and taking care of stuff," said Kaylene Mortenson, former vice principal in charge of athletics at Alisal High. "On the field he was just passionate and excited," she said.
Mortenson worked at the high school from 1989 to 1998, and her husband, Gary, was the athletic director from 1988 to 2000.
Bacis occasionally collected yellow or red cards for outbursts on the field, Gary Mortenson said.
"Sometimes he didn't like the officiating," he said. "The only problem I had was trying to teach him what was acceptable behavior on the field and what wasn't. He had a very short temper."
Mortenson said Bacis was skilled at soliciting donations for the team from various groups.
"He did very good at getting people to donate things," he said. "It just shocks me that he is in trouble for embezzling. I didn't see that in Gil at all."
According to a biography recently taken down from the Salinas PAL Web site, Bacis was honored for bravery by the Gilroy Police Department in 1986 and in 1998 received a merit award from the Monterey County Peace Officers Association for saving the life of a suicidal person.
He volunteered for numerous events over the years, including the annual Special Olympic Torch Run and the Salinas Police Department's annual Bicycle Rodeo.
He was elected to PAL's executive board in 2000 and became the first executive director of the Salinas PAL program. He also served as vice president and president of the organization, according to PAL's Web site.
"He has extensive history working with PAL and with other youth in the community," said McSorley. "He was held in a high degree of respect."
Bacis is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 18.
Copyright 2007 The Monterey County Herald
Calif. officer accused of embezzlement