Robert Perez made a living as a fire detective. But for the last several months the retired employee of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department had police detectives on his trail. And the police search seems to have paid off. On August 30, Perez, a former captain and insurance investigator with the department, turned himself in to county sheriff’s office for arrest. Evidence indicated that over a roughly six-year period he had stolen approximately $114,000 from his union, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2046, and on top of that, submitted false tax returns. Perez was released on his own recognizance after a court rescheduled his arraignment date. He faces up to eight years in prison.
Santa Barbara County, California, now with a population of more than 400,000 to go along with its postcard-perfect Pacific coastline, is hardly immune to fires. And in Robert Joseph Perez, a resident of Arroyo Grande, the County Fire Department had someone experienced in dealing with them. Before his retirement this spring, he had worked as a firefighter, a captain and finally an insurance investigator. Unfortunately, he also had access to funds belonging to IAFF Local 2046.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Perez during March 2006-February 2012 embezzled $114,000 from the union. What’s more, during tax years 2007-12 he submitted fraudulent tax returns. The union financial shortfalls had been uncovered in March during the course of an internal audit. By early April, the union leadership approached Perez with its findings. Perez, in response, chose to retire, thus insulating him from further internal review. Local 2046 President Adam Estabrook, in turn, reported the problem to the county sheriff’s office, which then launched a four-month investigation. The probe concluded Robert Perez was indeed the culprit. Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer said of Perez: “He’s a former employee now, and I think we need to let the judicial process take its course.” That’s not something to which Perez is looking forward.