A decorated Santa Ana police officer was sentenced this week after pleading guilty to stealing more than $25,000 from an organization that cares for working and retired police dogs.
The money had been intended to pay for such things as the retired dogs’ medical care, group pet insurance and SWAT tactic seminars for many of Orange County’s 55 canine teams, said Todd Schmaltz, president of the Orange County Police Canine Assn.
“It definitely could have helped a lot of dogs,” said Schmaltz, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy who works with a 6-year-old German shepherd named Maximus. “I don’t know what he was thinking, but there’s no excuse for what he did.”
Eric Stephen Rimat, 45, of Wildomar in Riverside County, pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzlement and admitted cashing 13 checks during the last two of his nine years as association president.
He was placed on five years’ probation, was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and to reimburse the association $25,490 and give it an additional $5,000.
He is on paid leave pending an internal investigation by the department.
Rimat left the organization in March 2004. When Schmaltz took over, he discovered bookkeeping discrepancies. He reported the suspicious checks to Santa Ana police, who turned over the investigation to the Orange County district attorney’s office, which charged Rimat with 13 counts of embezzlement.
“You had an organization where, inherently, cops trusted cops,” Schmaltz said. “We are way more educated now about what checks and balances should have been in place.”
The group now requires two signatures on checks and conducts an annual audit.
Most of the organization’s money -- including what was stolen -- is from its annual benefit show, which features fireworks, helicopters and more than 40 performing police dogs.
The theft was especially galling, Schmaltz said, because Rimat was in law enforcement.
“As police officers, we’re entrusted by the public,” he said. “When you’re a police officer working for a nonprofit, it’s even worse. People should be confident that if they give money to a cause, it’s going to the right place.”
This year’s benefit will be Oct. 15 at Cal State Fullerton’s soccer stadium.
The association represents canine teams in Orange County and Corona. The dogs typically work five to seven years, Schmaltz said, then live the remainder of their lives -- usually two to four more years for German shepherds -- with their officers.
“I love my wife, but I spend more time with my dog,” Schmaltz said.
“I can only recall one guy in the past eight years who gave up his dog.”
Rimat, a 16-year veteran of the police force who has received 16 commendations and a distinguished-service medal, received the department’s Purple Heart after a standoff in the 1980s when a suspect shot him and his police dog Endy.
The dog survived but later died of cancer.