Former Calif. county fire/EMS dispatch director charged with embezzlement

Joseph Thuesen was fired as the top administrator of Sacramento County's fire/EMS dispatch center last year after an investigation into "financial irregularities" and alleged threats of violence


Michael McGough
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — A former top administrator at Sacramento County's dispatch center for fire and medical calls, whose ouster last August followed months of investigation into alleged financial discrepancies and an unusual legal conflict after colleagues accused him of making unsettling comments about "vigilante justice" while at work, has been criminally charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.

One felony count of each was filed against Joseph Thuesen in late October, Sacramento Superior Court records show. Dollar amounts allegedly involved were not immediately clear.

Thuesen, of Cameron Park, served as the executive director of the Sacramento Regional Fire/EMS Communication Center on an interim basis beginning in December 2017 and in full capacity starting in August 2018.

The center's board of governors placed Thuesen on administrative leave in April 2019, after an internal investigation allegedly uncovered "financial irregularities" under his leadership, as The Sacramento Bee first reported last year. He was fired months later.

Days after Thuesen was first put on leave, a deputy fire chief who serves as the board's chairperson along with Thuesen's two deputy directors secured a temporary workplace violence restraining order against him. The trio alleged in court filings that interactions they'd had with Thuesen around the time of his placement on leave made them fear for their safety.

Dispatch center deputy directors Diane House and Kylee Soares penned declarations included in the filing by Deputy Chief Chris Costamagna of the Sacramento Fire Department, the dispatch center's board chairperson and Thuesen's then-supervisor.

House wrote that Thuesen, during an "emotionally charged" conversation, made comments alluding to having an "arsenal" in his home, referenced "vigilante justice" and said it would "be on like Donkey Kong." Soares wrote that an unnamed finance employee at the dispatch center expressed fear to her that Thuesen would "commit a 'murder-suicide.'"

Costamagna wrote in the restraining order filing that he had previously seen Thuesen "fixate on an issue and want to make people pay for what they have done."

The temporary order was granted, barring Thuesen from entering the dispatch facility in the Mather Field area near Rancho Cordova.

In a written response filed weeks later in court as Costamagna and the center sought to make the restraining order permanent, Thuesen and his attorney vigorously denied that he had threatened any violence. They accused House of fabricating the "arsenal" comment and said the rest of the "vigilante" comments were taken far out of context. Thuesen's attorney described House as a vengeful employee with an "axe to grind" for various reasons.

Thuesen further claimed that the board gave him no explanation as to why he'd been placed on paid leave, and he wrote that he didn't even find out about the allegations regarding misused funds until he was served with the temporary restraining order. The restraining order dust otherwise included minimal details from either side about the accounting investigation, which was still ongoing internally at that point.

A judge in late May 2019 denied the workplace's petition for a permanent restraining order against Thuesen.

The center's executive director is in charge of overseeing day-to-day operations as well as setting and proposing budget drafts. The board of governors formally fired Thuesen in August 2019 "based on the results of an independent review of financial irregularities," Costamagna told The Bee at the time.

Thuesen was arraigned last week for the felony embezzlement and misappropriation charges. He did not enter a plea and is due back in court Nov. 24 for a settlement conference, court records show.

If convicted, misappropriation of public funds carries a sentence of between two to four years in state prison; felony embezzlement carries a statutory maximum of three years.

The Sacramento Regional Fire/EMS Communication Center is managed under joint authority of the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department, Folsom Fire Department, Sacramento Fire Department and Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. It handles fire and medical 911 calls from those jurisdictions plus the Courtland, Herlad, Isleton, Walnut Grove and Wilton fire departments, along with the River Delta Fire Protection District.

According to its website, the center's dispatchers handle more than 350,000 emergency calls each year.

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(c)2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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