A Solano County Superior Court judge on Tuesday ruled there was enough evidence to hold for trial a former California Highway Patrol officer and a former CHP contract auto technician on allegations of felony embezzlement and auto parts thefts that stretched over 18 months, from late 2016 to mid-2018.
Following a two-day preliminary hearing, Judge Jeffrey C. Kauffman ordered former officer Todd Curtis Smith, 49, and auto technician Nicholas Ryan Bonachea, 40, to return at 8:30 a.m. May 17 for a held-to-answer arraignment in Department 1 in the Justice Center in Fairfield. At that time, Kauffman, conferring with their respective defense attorneys, Daniel Russo and Vincent Maher, to set further proceedings, including a trial date.
Court records indicate that Smith was arrested Nov. 30, 2018, by a fellow officer at the CHP division offices on Benicia Road in Vallejo. Shortly after being booked into Solano County Jail, he posted $35,000 bail on the charge, felony embezzlement/grand theft exceeding $950.
Bonachea was arrested the same day on suspicion of felony embezzlement exceeding $950. After being booked into jail, he posted a $35,000 bond on Dec. 4.
A third suspect in the case, Thomas Jerome Carpenter, 51, also was arrested on Nov. 30 on charges of receiving stolen property, auto parts, among other things. After being booked into jail, he also posted a $35,000 bond on Dec. 4.
The three were arraigned on the charges Dec. 31 in Department 17 in the Hall of Justice in Fairfield. Each pleaded not guilty.
In the ensuing months, however, Carpenter, charged with two counts of receiving stolen property, pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Aug. 17 last year. However, publicly available court records do not indicate exactly what punishment Kauffman imposed but Carpenter is on probation. Before he pleaded, he faced the possibility of a maximum of five years in prison, plus fines.
Carpenter, also an auto mechanic, was originally charged with receiving stolen property exceeding $950 (auto parts, a hand controller, and a CHP medical bag), and his probation term was transferred to his current county of residence, which, according to court records, appears to be Butte County. A search of court records on Monday showed that the case against him was closed on Nov. 30, 2020, and there was no other information in the court’s document management system about Carpenter’s case.
At the outset of the first day of the preliminary hearing, April 19, Deputy District Attorney William J. Moser, who leads the prosecution, called CHP Detective James Hampton to the stand.
Hampton indicated that, at one point, he obtained a search warrant for Carpenter’s home in Pacheco, where investigators found what was described as a “hand-held control device” and a “touchscreen device.”
During the home’s search, Carpenter arrived and told investigators that he received “some items” from Bonachea and admitted, according to Hampton, that he was not authorized to have the items, that they were stolen and worth $2,000. Investigators also found auto parts belonging to the CHP in Carpenter’s garage.
Hampton noted that Bonachea had worked for the CHP at the Car Car Center in Vallejo since 2015. He also testified that the car parts, including brand-new rims and tires meant for CHP vehicles, were used on personal vehicles belonging to Carpenter, Bonachea and Smith.
Additionally, Hampton said, the three men used CHP vehicle parts “to save money” while working on an “auto-flipping” business.
On cross-examination, Russo peppered Hampton with questions about how he determined the vehicles had stolen parts. Hampton said they were labeled as CHP property, either on a box or with some sort of sticker or marking directly on the part.
Maher, during his cross-examination, got Hampton to admit that tires and rims, brake pads “don’t have CHP stamps” or other identifiers on them.
If convicted at trial, Smith, who was last assigned to the CHP’s Traffic Management Center in Oakland, faces up to three years in jail.
If convicted at trial, Bonachea also faces the possibility of a maximum three-year prison term, plus fines.
In a complaint filed more than two years ago by the Solano County District Attorney, prosecutors say Smith and Bonachea committed the alleged crimes between Dec. 6, 2016, and June 13, 2018.
Items listed stolen include a computer touchscreen, reflective rain jackets with CHP patches, CHP decals, and a CHP cruiser exterior public address system.