DENISON, Iowa — Former Denison Fire Chief Mike McKinnon offered an apology in court Monday, pledging to “make it right” after pleading guilty to a theft charge related to his spending of taxpayer dollars for personal purposes.
His attorney asked for deferred judgment and probation, noting that his client is the sole supporter of his family and has a special needs teenage son.
However, District Court Judge Jeffrey Poulson sentenced McKinnon to 10 years in prison for the first-degree theft charge.
“You did betray the public's trust,” Poulson said as some in the courtroom wept. “A deferred judgment is simply not appropriate.”
McKinnon served as Denison's fire chief from January 1999 to January 2010. An investigation by the Iowa Auditor's Office identified nearly $96,000 in questionable fire department spending from 2005 to 2010, zeroing in on purchases made by McKinnon.
The auditor's report detailed questionable city spending on items such as webcams, a riding lawn mower and a motor for McKinnon's pontoon boat.
Other expenses classified as improper included purchases of several Plexiglas sheets in 2005 and 2007. “We also observed photographs of Plexiglas installed in an enclosure around the hot tub located on the deck of Mr. McKinnon's former personal residence,” the report states.
Rob Sand, assistant attorney general for the state of Iowa, said McKinnon “won't serve close to 10 years.” He likely will be paroled.
McKinnon's attorney, F. Montgomery Brown, said he plans to appeal the sentence. He noted that his client has already paid restitution of $14,000. Under the sentence he received Monday, McKinnon will have to pay more restitution to the city. Sand said that amount would come to about $10,000.
McKinnon pleaded guilty to the theft charge in January. In return, prosecutors dropped a charge of felonious misconduct in office.
On Monday, about 30 people, mostly relatives and friends of McKinnon, crowded into the courtroom.
“I know I've done wrong, and I want to make it right,” McKinnon said, his voice cracking.
Sand urged a prison sentence, arguing that it could deter wrongdoing by others. He also noted that the former fire chief denied doing anything wrong for a long time before pleading guilty.
“There needs to be something out there that communicates ... that these crimes are taken seriously by the state of Iowa,” Sand said.
Brown noted that a pre-sentence investigation by the Iowa Department of Corrections recommended no prison time and probation.
He said the report also concluded that McKinnon's actions had a mental health component, though he said that was not an excuse. His client suffered from a series of “stress-related illnesses,” Brown said, that were “highly suggestive of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
He also said that, with a deferred judgment, McKinnon would be allowed to continue his job as fire science coordinator at San Juan College in New Mexico. A deferred judgment would wipe the conviction from McKinnon's record if he successfully completed probation. But a conviction would mean McKinnon would lose his job and would hinder his ability to make further restitution, Brown said.
The sentencing comes as public corruption cases are on the rise in Iowa. In fiscal year 2002, the State Auditor's Office handled 10 such cases. For 2012, the number was 23.
McKinnon isn't the only public official in western Iowa this year to be sent to prison.
Despite a similar in-court apology in January, Tammy Gammon, a former employee of the Mills County Treasurer's Office, was sentenced to 25 years after pleading guilty to a charge of ongoing criminal conduct, for stealing more than $36,000.
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