A former Denison, Iowa, fire chief — whose spending on webcams, a riding lawn mower and a boat motor was questioned by the State Auditor's Office — has agreed to plead guilty to a first-degree theft charge.
In return, prosecutor will drop a charge of felonious misconduct in office against Mike McKinnon, the former chief, according to court documents filed Thursday in Crawford County.
The agreement does not stipulate a punishment. It comes one year to the day after the Auditor's Office released a report questioning the department's spending.
Court documents indicate a plea hearing is scheduled for Jan. 7.
McKinnon served as fire chief from January 1999 to January 2010. A subsequent investigation by the Auditor's Office identified nearly $96,000 in questionable fire department spending from 2005 to 2010, zeroing in on purchases made by McKinnon.
The report identified a number of purchases that auditors said were improper or lacked correct documentation, including webcams, GPS units, a digital camera, a riding lawn mower and snow blade, clothing and a motor for McKinnon's pontoon boat.
McKinnon is currently listed on the website of San Juan College in Farmington, N.M., as the coordinator for the school's fire science program. A profile on the site describes McKinnon as a Clarinda native and the first full-time fire chief of Denison.
His attorney, F. Montgomery Brown of West Des Moines, said McKinnon faces up to 10 years in prison. Efforts to reach McKinnon were unsuccessful.
The 2011 auditor's report recommended, among other things, that the city ensure invoices are reviewed by the City Council, require adequate supporting documents for purchases and require employees and officials to annually disclose possible conflicts of interest.
“Our city clerk … has actually put in place all those recommended revisions to our procedures,” Terry Crawford, city manager for Denison, said Thursday.
“We've been very careful about making sure we are following the state auditor's recommended changes.”
Among the expenses classified as improper by the auditor's report were purchases of several Plexiglas sheets in 2005 and 2007. Auditors were unable to locate much of the Plexiglas on city property. But in an interview with an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent, McKinnon said he used some of it at his home, which he said had been damaged in a storm.
“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.
When asked by city officials about the purchase of the boat motor and parts — identified on purchase orders as “pump repairs” — plus the lawn mower and snow blade, McKinnon sent an email that said: “My bad ... check coming to you.” Investigators said they were unable to find any payments from McKinnon but the snow blade was returned.
The audit also identified thousands of dollars it said had been paid to businesses owned and operated by McKinnon and included invoices with addresses for post office boxes that the report said did not exist.
The agreement says McKinnon agreed to pay the $9,266 bill from the auditor's office to the City of Denison, plus nearly $1,000 that was not covered by the city's insurer for its nearly $72,000 loss.
Iowa Attorney General's Office spokesman Geoff Greenwood said the court would determine the amount McKinnon must pay to the Crawford County EMS Association for its loss of more than $23,000.
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