Michael McKinnon
Michael McKinnon
May 30, 2014

A judge's decision to suspend the prison sentence of a former Denison fire chief who admittedly stole more than $70,000 from his department won't deter similar would-be embezzlers, according to the assistant Iowa Attorney General who prosecuted the case.

"I don't believe that a three-month sentence fits a theft of over $70,000 and am concerned that this will not sufficiently deter potential thieves," state prosecutor Rob Sand wrote in an email to the Daily Times Herald. "However, the judge disagreed for the reasons he stated on-the-record, and we respect the court's decision."

District Judge Jeffrey Poulson - who in March 2013 sentenced Michael McKinnon, 43, to up to 10 years in prison for the thefts because "this is a large amount of money, done over a large amount of time, done in a manner of ways" - said last week that McKinnon's abbreviated prison time would be a deterrent to potential thieves before he suspended McKinnon's prison sentence and, instead, ordered him to serve three years of probation.

Poulson based his decision last week, in part, on McKinnon's positive state Department of Corrections progress reports and the man's inability to pay restitution to the department while incarcerated.

State auditors uncovered about $96,00 worth of improper spending by the town's fire and emergency medical services departments from 2005 to 2010 after McKinnon left the fire chief post for another job at a New Mexico college.

Sand alleged that McKinnon owned and operated businesses that billed the department for equipment and services they didn't provide, and that McKinnon paid for personal items with taxpayer dollars.

McKinnon pleaded guilty in January to felony theft and asked for a deferred judgment, under which he would not have been formally convicted of the crime.

Poulson declined the request and sentenced McKinnon to prison, a decision McKinnon appealed that was upheld by an Iowa Court of Appeals judge in January. McKinnon went to prison and in April asked Poulson to reconsider the sentence.

Poulson granted him probation on May 23.