BYLINE: JAMES GILBERT, SUN STAFF WRITER
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The former Yuma police officer charged with stealing nearly $11,000 in cash from evidence storage to support an addiction to prescription drugs will be sentenced next month.
During a mitigation hearing Friday before Judge Larry Kenworthy in Yuma County Superior Court, prosecutor Roger Nelson asked the former officer, Geoffrey Michael Presco, why he did not seek help for his drug addiction from fellow officers or the department itself.
"In hindsight I wished I would have. I can't explain why I didn't," an emotional Presco answered. "I would have gotten the help I needed. Unfortunately, I was afraid."
Since there wasn't enough time Friday to complete the mitigation hearing, Kenworthy scheduled Presco's sentencing for 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 22.
The former Officer of the Year for Yuma Police Department was arrested in June on suspicion of one count of theft for allegedly taking the money, which was evidence from a case he was handling.
He later confessed to spending the money to support his drug habit, saying he was addicted to the prescription drug Oxycontin. He had been taking the drug for a knee injury.
Presco pleaded guilty to one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices in an October plea agreement, with prosecutors dismissing four other theft and drug charges.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Presco could be sentenced to a prison term ranging from three years to 12-1/2 years in prison. The minimum sentence is 1-1/2 years.
However, since there is no stipulation concerning the sentence in the plea agreement, probation is also available. As part of the plea agreement, Presco must make full restitution on all original counts he was facing prior to signing the plea.
The YPD officially terminated Presco, whose career in law enforcement is over regardless of the sentence, back in June. In his rookie year on the force, Presco had worked the overnight shift from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and was selected as YPD's 2008 Patrol Officer of the Year.
During Friday's hearing, Presco said he had been taking Oxycontin since 2005, when he injured he knee while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at MCAS Yuma.
Nelson had also asked Presco if there were any times over the past four years that he hadn't be on the drug.
"There were short periods in between when I wasn't taking it, but it was only for about two or three days each time," Presco answered.
Presco, who now works at Thrifty Auto, said when he couldn't buy the prescription drug anymore through his insurance because of unpaid co-payments, he would go to Algodones and buy the drug there. But instead of bringing it back across the border, he would take the pills while he was still in Mexico. Presco, who was taking three or four pills a day, also said there were occasions where he would buy pills in Mexico two or three times a day.
His wife, Stephanie, and two friends, Melissa Gendron and Mike Ewalt, spoke on behalf of Presco during the hearing.
Stephanie Presco testified that she knew something was wrong with her husband in the months prior to his arrest but did not know exactly what.
"He was becoming secretive and wasn't himself. I could tell something was bothering him."
Ewalt, an officer with YPD, also said he noticed Presco's personality change.
"I just thought he was working too much. I spoke with him at the YPD after his arrest and he said he was addicted to Oxycontin and it took over his life."
All three asked the judge to impose probation, saying they felt Presco, who was medically retired from the Marine Corps due to his knee injury, would be successful with that sentence.
"As soon as he was arrested, he knew he had a problem and wanted to change his life," Stephanie Presco said. She also spoke about how her husband is undergoing drug counseling to help battle his addiction.
Sometime late in 2008, Presco had seized $11,000 in cash, drug paraphernalia and some clothing during an investigation and placed them into the evidence locker.
According to Yuma police, an investigation into the missing evidence began after another YPD employee who was following up on the case discovered the money and evidence were missing.
The investigation, police said, revealed Presco had checked out the evidence from storage on Feb. 23 for a supposed court proceeding but never returned it.
During the department's investigation into the missing items, police contacted Presco, who admitted he had the evidence but had not returned it yet.
As part of the investigation, police were sent to Presco's home to retrieve the evidence, only to be given bags of evidence but no money.
Presco, according to testimony given during Friday's hearing, has been cooperating fully with police since his arrest.
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