Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The friends of Buddy Skeen stay until the bitter end

Tax man headed for prison after conviction

Asked about the kind of public integrity cases he investigates, Texas Ranger James Wilson Jones said, “Oh, you know, there's just a whole lot of paperwork – lots of paperwork...”

Waco – Convicted by his own admission, former Tax Assessor-Collector Buddy Skeen spent his last couple of hours of freedom sitting at the defense table in district court, gazing into the middle distance with sadness in his eyes under his arched brows.

As Chief Prosecutor Michael Jarrett read the list of stringent terms and conditions with which he would be ordered to comply, the reality that he would probably be going away in shackles began to sink in, and he sat arms akimbo, the fingertips of his right hand pressing against his upper lip.

His sadness overtook him and he tented the fingers of both hands in front of his face, pulling off his glasses as he let the tears flow.

The jury of 7 women and five men sent one note with two questions to Judge Matt Johnson after they retired to deliberate around 3 p.m. after a long day of tedious testimony from car sales managers, a Texas Ranger, and former employes of the Vehicle Inventory Tax department of his former office.

The messsage slip read, “Is restitution going to be paid on probation?

“What is the maximum probation?”

Judge Johnson replied, saying “You are to render your verdict basd on the facts. You are not to concern yourselves with matters not in the jury charge.”

The jurors contemplated their decision for about an hour and a half. When they emerged, two of the men were visibly angered. One young woman appeared to be amused.

They recommended a suspended sentence of two years in the State Felony Jail for his guilty plea to misapplication of a fiduciary property, suspended with a term of probation, and a $10,000 fine.

They had been asked to choose between that sentence, a similar suspended sentence with a suspension of the $10,000 fine, and a sentence of confinement to the State Felony Jail for two years.

The judge sentenced Mr. Skeen to six months confinement in State Felony Jail, a $10,000 fine, restitution of the funds misapplied, and five years probation.

An investigation that had run for more than a year, mountains of publicity, and 40 boxes of evidence seized from his office by the Public Integrity Unit of the Texas Rangers that totaled more than 100 separate items never revealed where he had put one penny in his pocket or diverted funds to his own use.

“This case should be about what Buddy Skeen has actualy done,” said Mr. Jarrett in his jury summation. “Send a message to the community. I promised you I would give you the truth, and I've given you the truth.

What did Mr. Skeen actually do?

He traded in a pickup bought for the use of the employees of the Vehicle Inventory Tax department of the tax collector's office, accepted a sum that was below market value, and sold the vehicle to the son of an employee for an estimated $5,000 below market value.

Said Dorothy Ramos, “Mr. Skeen helped many people.”

Jurors found that to be a misapplication of property worth more than $1,500 and less than $20,000 that was rightfully owned by the citizens of McLennan County.

There are other counts pending in the indictment, including theft of property by a public official – running boards and a pickup bed cover and tonneau top from a county-owned vehicle he had installed on a pickup he bought for his own use, giving false statements, and forgery.

Mr. Skeen's lead defense attorney, Jeff Kearney, made an immediate motion for an application for an appeal bond.

Judge Johnson set a hearing on the application for Friday morning at 10 a.m. as bailiffs led the freshly convicted felon away, took his jewelry, belt and personal effects, and gave them to one of his lawyers to hand to his wife.

As the gallery left the court, a small coterie of men with whom Mr. Skeen drinks coffee at the local McDonald's and attends Sunday School lingered. Each one had testified earlier that his guilty plea had not changed their opinion about him in any way.

Each told the prosecutor when he asked that, if necessary, they would help Mr. Skeen reform his ways while serving his probated sentence. One man looked very pained as he admitted that, yes, he would inform authorities if he learned that his friend had violated the terms and conditions of his probation.

- The Legendary

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