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'This is just unacceptable': Sheriff's office arrests man accused of stealing firefighter's wallet, draining bank account

The theft is said to have happened while the commander was battling the CZU Lightning Complex fires.
Credit: Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — A Santa Cruz County sheriff had strong words for the man he says stole a firefighter's wallet from his department vehicle, drained his bank account while he worked to keep the community safe. 

"Here we had somebody who came from completely out of the area, left their family, left their normal life to come here to Santa Cruz County to help our community get through the most catastrophic fire that we’ve seen in our history and then somebody has the audacity to steal from this man,” Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said during a press conference. 

While it is unclear as to the specifics that led up to the theft, the sheriff's office said it received a call from a citizen that led them to the home of 37-year-old Brian Johnson.

It was there that deputies conducted a probation search related to previous charges and found the clothes worn by the thief in surveillance video and merchandise that had just been purchased. 

During the search, the sheriff's office said Johnson admitted to taking the credit cards and making the charges. He even wrote the CAL FIRE firefighter an apology letter in response to his arrest. 

The crime appeared to drive a nerve with Hart who touched on the fact that this firefighter came to the area as wildfires burned the community to help them and in return, he was taken advantage of. 

“That’s not who we are here in Santa Cruz County," Hart said. 

Johnson faces charges including forgery, grand theft, credit card theft, possession of stolen property and a probation violation.

The total amount drained from the commander's bank account is unknown. The sheriff's office said it is also looking into the possibility that another person could be involved in the crime.

A glimpse of good news, in this case, comes as the sheriff said the firefighter's credit card companies and bank reversed all charges. 

As of Friday afternoon, CAL FIRE reports more than 1.6 million acres have burned across the state in wildfires, with 2,492 structures being damaged or destroyed in the flames. 

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