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9:41 PM Mon, Dec. 10th

Judge sentences Castaneda to four years of probation

PRESCOTT - More than a year and a half of investigation and court appearances culminated Monday with a sentence of probation for former Elks Opera House Manager Dawn Castaneda.

In a hearing Monday afternoon, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley handed down a sentence of four years of supervised probation, but no jail time, for the felony theft charge to which Castaneda had pleaded guilty in late January.

In addition, Ainley added 200 hours of community service, and $4,000 in restitution.

In an earlier plea agreement, Castaneda, 36, had admitted to theft of about $4,000 worth of city property while she worked at the Elks Opera House.

Among the items: an Apple Macbook computer, three iPods, a printer, a digital camera, six dresses, and tuxedo shoes.

The case dates back to September 2010, when Castaneda resigned from her job as manager of the City of Prescott's historic downtown theater, maintaining that the Elks Opera House had been a hostile workplace.

Soon afterward, the city began two investigations - one that looked into the internal allegations, and the other on criminal matters. Prescott police later got a warrant to search Castaneda's house, and arrested her on Oct. 13, 2010.

Prior to Monday's sentencing, the prosecution and defense had each filed reports with the court, explaining their positions on Castaneda's punishment.

Pushing for "substantial jail time" in addition to the probation, Mohave County Prosecutor Jace Zack claimed that Castaneda had been a problem city employee and had taken the items knowingly.

"(Castaneda) was not a good, competent employee," Zack told the judge. "She was never valued."

And refuting Castaneda's earlier claims that she had intended to return the items to the city, Zack said, "This was not just an employee who had stuff in her possession and didn't return it." Rather, he said Castaneda "disguised" purchases she made with the city credit card.

Zack's written report to the court stated that Castaneda had bought the Macbook computer with a city credit card in July 2010, but that the city was unaware of the purchase. "When the defendant was arrested, officers found an Apple Mac Book Pro in her purse," the report stated.

It added that Castaneda had used the credit card "pretty much as her own to provide extras and luxuries for herself, her friends and her family."

But according to the defense, Castaneda had been a valued city employee who faltered, in part, because of the pressures of her job.

"She made some bad decisions toward the end of her career," English told the judge. "As her responsibilities increased, so did the pressure. She began to crumble under that pressure."

Former Mayor Jack Wilson supplied a letter to the court, which maintained that Castaneda had demonstrated initiative and a keen interest in the Elks Opera House.

Wilson added that Castaneda's key skill was in her personal relationships.

Another letter to the court - from Bill Fry, a father of a child involved in programs at the Elks - said he viewed Castaneda as "honest and trustworthy." He added that he had witnessed instances of "physical and mental abuse that caused her to quit."

In conclusion, English noted that Castaneda had no prior criminal record, and that she is "sincerely remorseful" for her actions. He added that she had pleaded guilty to a felony that would follow her the rest of her life.

Ainley said probation was appropriate, in part, because of the lack of a criminal record, as well as the relatively insignificant amount of the theft.

In response to a request by English that Castaneda relocate to Nevada and complete her probation there, Ainley said she had no problem with such a move, but that the State of Nevada would have to accept it.

Castaneda declined to comment on the sentence after the hearing.

Also on Monday, Castaneda was scheduled to appear in Prescott Magistrate Court on a December 2011 misdemeanor shoplifting charge, but the court continued her case until April 2.