A former acting fire chief for Hayden accused of theft and trafficking in stolen property was sworn in as the community's mayor late Monday afternoon.
Charles Vega, 37, was elected mayor in March. Just a month earlier, he had been arrested by Pinal County sheriff's deputies after a string of events that included allegedly taking money from a fundraising dance for the Hayden Volunteer Fire Department and chainsaws meant for the Asarco Mine in Kearney.
Vega was removed as the fire chief and is a former worker at the Asarco Mine.
Hayden police told Pinal County investigators in December they believed the $850 taken from the volunteer fire department fundraiser was done by a town employee.
At the same time, Gila County sheriff's deputies were investigating the theft of property, including four chainsaws valued at $1,120 each, from the mine.
Deputies said the chainsaws were ordered at the mine and had been delivered to a mine warehouse. It was later learned the saws were delivered to Vega, deputies said.
Deputies said they recovered one of the stolen chainsaws and that Vega tried to sell another to replace the money in the fire department fund.
Vega was arrested Feb. 20 and booked into jail on suspicion of theft of controlled property and trafficking in stolen property. He was released on his own recognizance.
"I'm innocent until proven guilty," Vega told CBS 5 News. "I did do [sic] a statement but it was because I was uncomfortable. It was a big conflict of interest of something that picked up, how they got me and stuff."
The incumbent that Vega beat in the election, Monica Badillo, said Vega should step down.
"It would be the responsible thing to do but I believe, he truly believes in his own mind that he didn't do anything," Badillo said.
"I like Charlie, I know his family," said Della Bustamonte, who has lived in Hayden for more than 50 years. She said her son went to high school with Vega. But while she voted for Vega, she said her allegiance may shift if he is convicted.
"You do the crime, you pay the time."
The League of Arizona Cities and Towns told CBS 5 News if an elected official is convicted of a felony, he or she will be removed from office. Online records show a pretrial conference for Vega's case will be next month.
We asked Vega if he can fulfill his mayoral responsibilities given the serious nature of the charges and impending trial. He said he could.
"I'm strong and I'm here for the people," Vega said.
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