Michael McKinnon
Michael McKinnon
March 22, 2013

The former Denison fire chief accused of stealing more than $70,000 from his department threatened city officials who initially investigated the thefts and went to great lengths to cover his tracks, an assistant attorney general wrote in a court document filed this month that asks a judge to send the fire chief to prison on Monday.

Michael McKinnon, 42, who was fire chief for about 11 years until he resigned in 2010 for a job at a New Mexico college, admitted to a judge in January that he billed the fire department for equipment and services he didn't provide, and that he paid for personal items - such as a boat motor, power tools, and a burgundy storm door - with taxpayer dollars.

He pleaded guilty to felony theft and faces up to 10 years in prison. A judge is set to sentence McKinnon on Monday.

"This defendant is not someone who made a single poor decision to steal and instantly regretted it," prosecutor Rob Sand wrote to the judge. "Instead, this defendant's acts demonstrate an enduring attitude of entitlement, denial, minimization and vindictiveness."

The Auditor of State's office found about $96,000 worth of questionable spending by the Denison Fire Department from 2005 to 2010, it reported in November 2011. State auditors found that nearly $40,000 was paid to McKinnon's businesses in that five-year period for training and other services. City leaders were not aware that McKinnon owned the businesses, the audit report said.

City leaders asked state auditors to evaluate the department's finances after McKinnon left.

Sand wrote that McKinnon made several initial threats to city officials as they asked for more information about the questionable expenses. McKinnon allegedly called city officials "childish and immature" and wrote in an email that "this is borderline harassment. I'm serious!"

Sand alleges that McKinnon bought a duplicate burgundy storm door, placed it in the Denison fire station and wrote to state auditors that "a local firefighter has contacted me and told me that several 'missing' items are reappearing."

McKinnon now works as the fire science coordinator for San Juan College in Farmington, N.M., where he is also a captain of a county fire department, according to the college's website.

College officials have declined to comment on McKinnon's felony charge and guilty plea.

"The defendant demonstrated his willingness to repeatedly violate the public's trust, resulting in disillusionment with government and our civic institutions," Sand concluded. "This attitude cannot be appropriately rehabilitated without imprisonment. ... Only imprisonment sends the message these crimes are taken seriously and can adequate deter these crimes from happening in the first place."