Holzworth receives four year prison sentence


Erik Jorgensen / Oak Leaf

Deputies lead a handcuffed Holzworth from the courtroom May 29.

Erik Jorgensen, Courtroom Correspondent

Campus cop and parking meter pilferer Jeffrey Scott Holzworth received four years in prison at his May 29 sentencing for embezzling over $285,000 from Santa Rosa Junior College. As part of a plea deal, Holzworth pleaded guilty to one enhanced felony charge of grand theft and eleven felony charges of receiving stolen property. Deputies led a handcuffed Holzworth from the courtroom to begin serving his prison term at San Quentin.

The former 28-year veteran SRJC District Police officer held sole unsupervised responsibility for collecting cash from campus parking lots in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Windsor. SRJC’s parking revenue nearly doubled after Holzworth’s arrest, increasing from $215,805 in 2012 to $428,554 in 2013.

Holzworth’s wife Karen still faces trial for one felony charge and one misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property and one FELO/MISD charge of acting as an accessory.

Coworkers brought Holzworth’s crimes to the attention of new SRJC District Police chief Matthew McCaffrey, less than a month after his appointment. The new chief met Nov. 1, 2012 with Santa Rosa Police detectives who investigated and then arrested Holzworth after his shift at SRJC District Police headquarters Nov. 28.

McCaffrey spoke on behalf of the college at Holzworth’s May 29 sentencing and compared his situation to a doctor who discovers and removes a patient’s cancer before it can spread. The patient is healthier than before, but with scars. “Trust is hard to earn, but easy to lose,” McCaffrey said. “When Jeff Holzworth chose to steal money, while on duty and in uniform, he not only disgraced the badge and betrayed the oath he swore to when he was hired as a police officer, he severely damaged the reputation of the police department.”

SRJC received about $286,000 in reimbursement from its insurance carrier. “However,” McCaffrey said, “This amount only accounts for the cash that laundered through the banks Jeff used and that there is a record of. Not only did Jeff steal thousands of dollars from the college, he stole that trust with the community we have worked so hard to build.”

Snide comments about taking money from permit machines continue to plague SRJC field officers, McCaffrey said. “Jeff betrayed his coworkers, many of whom considered him a friend, and caused some of them the stress and awkwardness of having to testify against him.”

“I hope the court subscribes to the philosophy that peace officers must be held to a higher standard than the communities they serve,” McCaffrey said. “This was not an accident. This was not someone trying to do the right thing who made a mistake. This was a cold, calculated, premeditated crime that Jeff had turned into a profession.”

Assistant District Attorney Amy Ariyoshi said no unusual circumstances exist to grant Holzworth probation instead of prison time. “It was just greed, to maintain a certain lifestyle,” Ariyoshi said. “No sickly, dying family members to take care of; just going to Vegas two or three times a year, maintaining his home and lifestyle – at the cost of SRJC.”

“If anybody worked for a prison sentence, it’s Holzworth,” Ariyoshi said. “To wake up every day and recommit to do this takes thought and planning.”

Holzworth’s defense attorney Joe Passalacqua argued for probation so Holzworth could give back to the community he took from. Holzworth “accepted responsibility from day one,” Passalacqua said, and Holzworth has no prior criminal history other than a DUI at 21 years old. Passalacqua urged consideration of 20 letters supporting Holzworth’s character. “Did he fool all those people, or did he just stray off the path?” Passalacqua said.

“What is the proper punishment?” Passalacqua said; Holzworth took full responsibility for his actions and expressed his remorse. He will have a hard time after prison repaying his financial debt with the stigma as a “dirty cop” and convicted felon. “No one wants to hire him,” Passalacqua said.

When SRPD detectives asked Holzworth the motivation behind his crimes, Passalacqua said his client answered, “Honestly, greed.” Holzworth wanted money in his pocket, to take his family out to dinners and to spoil his daughters. Passalacqua said an appropriate punishment was a short, local jail term followed by “numerous hours” of restorative punishment. “The community benefits by ordering him to give back, with a seven-year prison term held over his head,” Passalacqua said.

Holzworth stood up for a brief statement to the court. Holzworth apologized for his actions, asked the court for a second chance and said he was “truly sorry.”

Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite said while he normally believes in rehabilitation, “Unfortunately, your actions have gone far beyond the pale.” Thistlethwaite’s sentence denied probation, imposed a four-year prison term and ordered repayment of SRJC’s documented loss. “I was very much considering a seven-year maximum,” Thistlethwaite said. Two female deputies handcuffed Holzworth, the judge finished explaining the details of the sentencing, then deputies led Holzworth out of the courtroom for transportation to San Quentin prison.

Holzworth received two years in prison for grand theft, plus two consecutive years for the “white collar crime” enhancement of embezzling an amount over $100,000. Eleven charges of receiving stolen property each earned two years, to be served concurrently with the grand theft charge.

Holzworth’s sentence requires repayment of $285,453.49 to Zurich Recovery Service. SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong said by email, “Through the initiative and leadership of Doug Roberts, VP of Finance and Business Services, SRJC had fraud insurance and we were able to receive a check from our insurance company for the documented loss.”

Ariyoshi described the judge’s sentence as well-deserved and well-earned. “Yes. He earned it,” Ariyoshi said.

Outside the courtroom Passalacqua said, “He got treated just like any other citizen, and he has to pay for his crimes. He took responsibility for his actions and the judge punished him for them.”

McCaffrey said outside the courtroom what bothered the Santa Rosa Police detectives most during their investigation wasn’t just that Holzworth stole money while on duty and in uniform; it was all he seemed to do, McCaffrey was told.

McCaffrey said insurance money will buy new computerized permit machines with software to account for “every cent going in and out.” Collecting money from campus parking lots now involves the “buddy system,” always with a second person present. While the new collection method protects SRJC parking funds, “It’s also protecting our employees from allegations,” McCaffrey said.

SRJC Student Trustee Robert Edmonds said the Board of Trustees plan to buy 33 more computerized parking permit machines from VenTek International of Petaluma, the manufacturers of the permit machines Holzworth exploited. In 2003 VenTek Senior Engineer Layton Eastridge was convicted of stealing from over 100 tickets machines CalTrain hired him to maintain, circumventing the same internal security measures he helped design.

VenTek International repeatedly declined to answer whether VenTek warned their customers to update cash collection procedures after Eastridge’s embezzlement exposed an exploitable vulnerability.

“If there’s a known security flaw in a cash system you’re selling to people, and you know about the flaw, you have a responsibility to tell your customers about it,” Edmonds said. “If it could’ve been avoided with some software or hardware fix, the District should pursue some remedy for the financial loss.”

Holzworth will collect his police pension from SRJC. He retired a month after his arrest, shortly before a new California law took effect which denies pensions to public employees convicted of on-the-job felonies. By retiring before the new law’s enactment, none of his prior criminal activity counts against his retirement fund. “It’s morally reprehensible that he would receive his pension, and the District should seek some legal remedy to avoid paying,” Edmonds said.

Chong said, “We have learned from this experience and have put safeguards into place to prevent this from occurring again. I am hoping we can put this terrible episode at the college behind us.”