FARMINGTON — Mike McKinnon began serving a 10-year prison sentence on Monday for stealing public money from an Iowa community while he was their fire chief.

He resigned as fire-science coordinator at San Juan College on Tuesday. He was in charge of courses that train firefighters.

McKinnon, 42, pleaded guilty in January to stealing nearly $100,000 from the city of Denison Fire Department.

The Iowa State Auditor's Office said McKinnon also stole $96,000 from the city of Denison and Crawford County, which are in western Iowa. He spent the money on personal items that included a pontoon boat motor, riding lawn mower, electronics and home-improvement projects and he directed public funds to businesses he owned and operated, according to the state auditor's report.

An Iowa district judge sentenced McKinnon to 10 years in prison for his felony theft conviction Monday and McKinnon turned himself in to law enforcement later that day to start serving his sentence, said F. Montgomery Brown, McKinnon's attorney.

McKinnon was the fire chief in Denison — a town of slightly more than 8,000 residents — from January 1999 to January 2010. He resigned shortly before the state auditor started investigating the department. The auditor's report said the theft took place between July 2005 and March 2010.

McKinnon accepted a position at San Juan College on Jan 4, 2010, before he had been charged with a crime, said Bill Lewis, the dean of Trades and Technology at the college, which includes the fire science program.


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McKinnon was charged with two felonies in December 2011 and he filed his notice of intent to plead guilty to one of the felonies Nov. 8 as part of a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 7 and his sentencing hearing was Monday, said Geoff Greenwood, the communications director for the Iowa Office of the Attorney General.

In Iowa, Brown said, defendants who have pleaded guilty to felonies where the sentence and conviction could be deferred are not considered convicted felons until a judge sentences them to prison.

McKinnon was hopeful he was going to be able to pay restitution, get his sentence deferred, keep his record clean of felonies and continue working at the college, Brown said.

"While awaiting sentencing he was fully employed and living with his family in Farmington," Brown said. "It's been my position since the sentencing option included a possible deferred judgment ... he wasn't a convicted felon until yesterday."

It is against San Juan College policy for instructors to be convicted felons, Lewis said.

Lewis said McKinnon told the college he was accused of a felony. The college allowed him to continue working after his guilty plea because there was a chance he wasn't going to be formally convicted.

"Mike McKinnon brought it to my attention that he was going through an investigation," Lewis said. "No responsibilities or duties changed when he brought it to my attention. (After his guilty plea) he was performing his duties as assigned until he had the formal conviction yesterday."

As fire-science coordinator at the college, McKinnon was both an instructor who taught 15 credits per semester and he crafted curriculum for the program. There are about 60 students who take fire-science courses at the college each year, Lewis said.

He made $61,371 a year.

Lewis said McKinnon taught his last class at the college on Friday. He had taken Monday and Tuesday off work.

"I will let the students know that he resigned today and that we will continue to provide a quality education and their potential employment will be uninhibited by this issue," Lewis said.

McKinnon was also a volunteer firefighter and training officer for the San Juan County Fire Department, said Chief Doug Hatfield. He had been responding to calls as recently as last week, Hatfield said.

"Whether he resigns or is terminated, either way he's not able to respond to calls," he said. "Since he is in prison he's definitely not a firefighter anymore."

Ryan Boetel may be reached at roboetel@daily-times.com; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel