A. F. "Buddy" Skeen in court Wednesday. (Photo by Jim Peeler)
WACO (September 19, 2012)—State District Judge Matt Johnson sentenced former McLennan County Tax Assessor-Collector A. F. “Buddy” Skeen, 69, to 180 days in state jail and five years probation Wednesday after a jury decided on a maximum two-year jail term, a $10,000 fine and five years probation.
Johnson suspended the two-year sentence and ordered Skeen to serve 180 days followed by five years probation.
He also ordered Skeen to perform 400 hours of community service.
The decision came a day after Skeen interrupted jury selection in his trial, pleaded guilty to misapplication of fiduciary property, a state jail felony, and then asked that a jury decide punishment.
After he was sentenced Wednesday evening, Skeen was handcuffed, removed from the courtroom and taken to the McLennan County Jail.
His attorneys say they will seek an appeal bond during a hearing on Friday, which would allow Skeen to remain free while pursuing his appeal.
The charge stems from the trade of a 2006 Ford pickup used by Skeen’s office to a local dealership in October 2008 for about $5,000 less than what it was actually worth.
The truck was immediately sold to the son of one of Skeen’s chief assistants, prosecutors said.
Skeen resigned immediately after entering the guilty plea Tuesday.
McLennan County Commissioners met in emergency session at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and named Randy Riggs to fill the vacancy.
Riggs emerged from a three-race primary race with Skeen and Jeff Nickell and a runoff with Nickell, to win the GOP nomination to the post.
He’s unopposed in November.
In opening statements Wednesday morning, prosecutors told jurors Skeen traded the county-owned vehicle as if it were his own.
The defense, in its opening, did not dispute that a transaction took place, but said Skeen did not profit from the deal.
Prosecutors questioned Dorothy Ramos, one of Skeen's chief assistants, who said it was her son who eventually bought the truck that Skeen traded in.
Prosecutors say Skeen used funds from a forfeiture account to buy two vehicles, one he drove himself and the other he allowed Ramos to drive.
Ramos’ son Esrom Martinez, who bought the truck after it was traded in to Greg May Chevrolet in West, testified that he purchased the truck "sight unseen" after his mother told him about it.
Martinez, a teacher now at University High School, said he bought truck without ever seeing it, test driving it or checking it out after his mother told him it only had 38,000 miles on it.
Martinez testified he knew he was getting a good deal.
Two employees from the dealership took the stand next and explained how the truck trade was an "in-and-out" deal, meaning there was a buyer for the truck even before it was traded in.
Documents presented in court showed Skeen sold the truck to May Chevrolet for $10,962.90 and that it was immediately re-sold to Martinez for $10 798.03.
Prosecutors say the actual market value of the truck was $15,000.
Texas Rangers served a warrant on Skeen's office on July 20, 2011 searching for records to support an investigation involving allegations that Skeen fraudulently listed a county-owned vehicle as a trade-in for the purchase of a personal pickup truck to avoid paying more than $1,300 in sales tax.
Skeen was arrested in December 2011 on warrants charging theft by a public servant and false name, information and forgery after the McLennan County Grand Jury indicted him.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said the charges stemmed from a false statement on a motor vehicle title application and the theft of accessories from a county-owned vehicle that were installed on Skeen's personal vehicle.
In April he was named in six new indictments.
The charges included one count of abuse of official capacity and five counts charging misappropriation of fiduciary property.
Ramos, a top deputy in the tax assessor-collector's office, was indicted for abuse of official capacity.