Sheriff's Deputy Who Took Money From HOA Sentenced

An 18-year sheriff's deputy, who took thousands of dollars from his homeowners association while acting as its treasurer, was sentenced Wednesday to probation after a judge reduced a felony embezzlement charge to a misdemeanor.

Ronald Sakamoto, who spent much of his career working in the county court system, was arrested in March, after the Lake Murray Gardens homeowners association determined that more than $16,000 was missing.

The 44-year-old defendant, who was the organization's treasurer, took the money between June 20, 2005, and Feb. 6 of this year. He pleaded guilty two months ago.

Sakamoto was placed on three years probation by Judge Patricia Cookson, who also ordered the defendant to perform 25 days of public work service and told him not to work or volunteer in a financial capacity.

In reducing the charge to a misdemeanor, she noted that the defendant had paid back the money he took, with interest.

"It's been a terrible embarrassment," Sakamoto told the judge. "It's nothing I wanted to experience or will repeat again."

The episode cost Sakamoto "dearly" because he had to resign from the Sheriff's Department, will probably lose his retirement benefits and went into debt, defense attorney Ward Clay said.

Everyone agreed that the case involved an "unauthorized borrowing" of the money instead of outright theft, Clay said.

The president of the homeowners association, Tim Gustafson, told the judge that the group's board members did not want to see Sakamoto go to jail.

The defendant has been the "exact same ideal neighbor since before this started," Gustafson said, adding that he didn't believe Sakamoto intended to keep the money.

Clay did not say what his client spent the money on. But prosecutor Kristian Trocha said at an earlier hearing that the funds were used for Sakamoto's mortgage, car payments and bills.

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