Friday, September 23, 2016

TOP STORY >> McNally receives six years for fraud

Leader staff writer

Circuit Court Judge Sandy Huckabee on Friday sentenced former Lonoke County Assessor John (Jack) McNally to six years in prison on several felony charges.

A stoic McNally, wearing a tan short-sleeve button-down shirt, was handcuffed at the Lonoke County Courthouse and taken into custody by the state Department of Correction after the ruling and began serving time immediately. He will be eligible for parole after serving a year in prison. McNally was ordered to pay $3,892 in restitution on the balance of a county credit card he misused and pay a $1,000 fine.

McNally, 59, pleaded guilty in June before a jury trial was to begin on the felony charges of one count of fraudulent use of a credit card, one count of possession of firearms by a felon, one count of violation of voter eligibility and two counts of violation of political practice pledge for falsification.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham requested McNally be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

McNally entered a not guilty plea to the charges in July 2015.

He was arrested in May 2015 after State Police completed an investigation following a lengthy legislative audit. Graham requested an investigation in November 2014 after irregularities showed up in the state legislative audit report.

McNally served as county assessor from January 2011 to December 2014, but lost his race for a third, two-year term to Jerrel Maxwell.

State Police discovered during the investigation that McNally had been convicted in 1986 for theft of federal government property.

According to the affidavit, he pleaded guilty then, was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation for three years. The original indictment was for five counts of theft of 4,804 camouflage cold-weather field coats made under contract for the Defense Department.

That federal felony conviction made it illegal for McNally to vote, hold office or possess a weapon.

There was nothing in court paperwork to indicate his record had been expunged, as the former assessor said he believed, according to the most recent affidavit.

State Police also obtained copies of a “Political Practices Pledge” form and a “Candidate Filing Form Affidavit of Eligibility” from the county clerk’s office. McNally signed both in 2010 and 2014. They indicated he was not a felon.

A State Police investigator interviewing McNally at his home in April 2015 seized a loaded .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun that was in plain sight.

According to the legislative audit report, McNally opened a fuel credit card account in the county’s name in 2011. As of July 2014, the balance owed was $2,329. Charges on the card for personal fuel totaled $11,333. Payments were made for $9,004.

State law prohibits elected offices from lending credit to private individuals. According to the affidavit, McNally said he used the fuel while on county business.

McNally was represented by attorney Hubert Alexander of Jacksonville.

Alexander told Judge Huckabee during the sentencing hearing that McNally has not been in trouble with the law in 30 years and recommended McNally receive probation instead of being sent to prison.

“The local politicians are licking their lips. They want to send him to the penitentiary and make a big example of him,” Alexander said.

“He had a gun at his house — big deal,” Alexander added.

Alexander said McNally had not cost the citizens of Lonoke County.

“Who did he hurt? Nobody except other politicians. It is going to make headlines in tomorrow’s paper,” Alexander said.

McNally, without family present, took the witness stand. He explained why he did not mark that he was a felon on the political practice pledge.

“I believed the federal charges were expunged,” McNally told the court.

The gun McNally had was for home protection, he said.

“I was wrong. I’m guilty. I’m terribly sorry for the crimes I have committed,” McNally said.

McNally said he was a heavy equipment operator for Welspun pipe company. He planned to work for seven more years, until retiring at 67.

He said his wife has been supportive and his children are worried about their father.

A riled-up Graham said the sentencing is not a political cause. “In January 2011, McNally raised his hand and was sworn in as assessor. McNally knew he was a felon. He knew it was a lie and that he wasn’t supposed to be there,” the prosecutor said.

“Voting is sacred. This is not personal. He hurt thousands of people who voted for him. He did it repeatedly until he was defeated,” Graham said.

He said McNally was a felon and does not have the right to have a gun. He did not purchase his gun at a store the right way, he had to get it from an individual, Graham said.

“He stole from the federal government and Lonoke County. What he did was an outrage. We can’t tolerate this. We need to hold people accountable,” Graham said.

Huckabee said people place trust in the election system. Elected officials take an oath to support the Constitution and to faithfully perform the duties of office.

McNally betrayed that trust, the judge said.

In 2006, McNally was also the subject of a three-week investigation as a Cabot code- enforcement officer.

He was accused of taking lawnmowers, barbecue grills and a swing set from a backyard so it could be mowed.

He wasn’t prosecuted then because there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges.