A mechanic who worked on California Highway Patrol vehicles in San Francisco has been charged with billing taxpayers $17,700 for parts and labor that were never provided, according to prosecutors.
Lester Frank Gutierrez, 46, of Daly City pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning in a San Mateo County courtroom to felony embezzlement and grand theft in connection with improper billing that spanned 13 months ending in September, according to the District Attorney's Office. He was reportedly arrested May 23.
Suspicions arose, prosecutors said, when the longtime CHP employee allegedly submitted invoices for payment to Serramonte Ford's body shop in the amount of $2,859 for parts and labor.
"CHP paid the invoices but later determined the parts allegedly provided could not be used on CHP vehicles," San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
That led to a financial audit that allegedly unveiled more improper billing, including $1,700 for car parts that Gutierrez is reported to have taken for his own use, Wagstaffe said. The DA doesn't know what he was doing with the car parts.
The Serramonte Ford manager who was working with Gutierrez is also being investigated by the CHP, Wagstaffe said.
Gutierrez's attorney, Tony Brass, declined to comment on the charges against his client but called him "a beloved employee of the CHP."
"A lot of people at CHP would say he went above and beyond a call of duty, and he cooperated fully in the investigation from beginning to end," Brass said.
Gutierrez, who has no criminal record, faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted of the charges, Wagstaffe said.
He is out of custody on $75,000 bail and is expected to appear for a preliminary hearing Aug. 27.