Lindsay City Council Member Steve Mecum has been arrested on suspicion of felony embezzlement, but the case does not involve public funds or property, Lindsay police said Tuesday.
The case appears to involve a dispute over ownership of a car.
Mecum, 38, was arrested about 5:50 p.m. Monday at his home, where police said they found evidence to support their case. He was booked into the Tulare County Main Jail and quickly released on $35,000 bail.
Mecum was elected in 2012 on a reform platform after allegations of mismanagement of city funds roiled the community, resulting in two longtime incumbents being voted out of office.
He said his status as an outsider has made him a target of the Lindsay establishment, including Director of Public Safety Rich Wilkinson -- who is also the city manager and subject to annual performance evaluations by the council.
"This is retaliation for my political activity," he said.
But Wilkinson said police are not playing politics and merely investigated a crime report.
"It has nothing to do with the seat he currently holds," Wilkinson said. "There is no political agenda."
Mecum said the case involves a family feud with a disgruntled brother-in-law.
He said he bought a new Ford Focus in 2001 for about $16,000 and paid it off several years ago. But the loan was in the name of his brother-in-law and late mother-in-law, and the title to the car was never put in his name after the loan was paid off.
After his mother-in-law died last month, a simmering family dispute erupted, causing his brother-in-law to go to police and allege illegal possession of the car, Mecum said.
"It's crazy," he said. "I paid for the car. I'm not stealing anything."
He said police took the keys to the car -- the car has 192,000 miles on it, he said -- and removed it from his property.
Mecum added that he believes police arrested him on suspicion of embezzlement to publicly humiliate him.
"It's a civil matter," he said. "Embezzlement means to have your hand in the cookie jar."
But Wilkinson disputed Mecum's contention that the vehicle spat is a civil matter.
The victim "reported a crime and requested that action be taken," he said. Police investigated, obtained a search warrant and an arrest warrant from a judge, and made an arrest, he said.
But Wilkinson would not release the name of the victim or supply additional details about the case. The case will be submitted to the Tulare County District Attorney's Office for prosecution, he said.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fultz said prosecutors are aware of the Lindsay case but haven't seen the evidence yet.
Mecum said he will hire a lawyer and does not expect to be found guilty.
He is employed as a correctional officer. He said he told his superiors about the matter and that his job is safe for now.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, email@example.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.