(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Larry Leslie (b. 1943)
It’s Friday morning, January 3, 2003, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Larry Leslie, 59, ex-sheriff of Reno County, is beginning his jail sentence for misdemeanor conflict of interest. He’s been booked into the same jail he had formally run.
He’s been fingerprinted.
Instead of a suit and tie, he’s wearing the jail’s standard black-and-white striped jumpsuit.
Larry Leslie was an honest sheriff before he became a careless criminal.
In 1998, when twice-elected Sheriff Leslie routinely left incriminating financial documents scattered around his open and unlocked office, it was just a matter of time before he was caught for a secret business agreement with Hutchinson attorney Gerald Hertach.
The two pleaded guilty and were convicted in October 2002 of two counts of misdemeanor conflict of interest. Leslie, an elected official, had not revealed his “substantial interest” in MgtGp Inc. to Reno County commissioners as required by Kansas law. While sheriff, Leslie had quietly collected $284,875 from the secret partnership operating the county’s jail annex.
In 1997 the Reno County jail was overflowing. Hutchinson attorney Gerald Hertach, who had been running House Arrest at the state fairgrounds, had an answer. Convince the county commissioners that contracting for privately run jail space could save money. After discussing his idea with Sheriff Leslie and Undersheriff Ken Angell, the three men created a secret business arrangement (“prohibitive contract”) concealing their financial agreement to pocket the profits.
However, the longer Angell thought about the plan, the less he liked it. Before any money exchanged hands—or was transferred from bank account to bank account to bank account—Angell told Hertach that he no longer wanted to participate in the partnership because he believed there was a conflict of interest.
Hertach won approval from the Reno County commission with the help of Sheriff Leslie who encouraged them to award, and later renew, the management contract with MgtGp Inc.
It wasn’t all that long after the privately run jail annex was up and running, that employees of the Reno County Sheriff’s Office grew suspicious.
Jail Captain Scott Beardslee knew something was odd when the sheriff asked him for help with his computer. Beardslee saw that Leslie had a business letterhead for a private company named “Star Enterprises.”
Later, Sherri Owston, office manager, informed Beardslee that the sheriff was billing large amounts of money. That motivated Beardslee in October 1998 to enter Leslie’s unlocked office during the work day, spot the letterhead on the sheriff’s desk, and to find invoices that appeared to be part of a kickback scheme.
Beardslee shared copies of the documents with Detective Howard Shipley and suggested an internal investigation. Shipley was already suspicious when Leslie had gotten upset about Styrofoam cups being used in the jail annex instead of cheaper plastic cups. Since the private contract with MgtGp Inc. required the corporation to pay the fixed jail’s costs, it didn’t make sense to Shipley why Leslie would care so strongly about saving that money.
Shipley decided more evidence was needed and made a night-time visit to Leslie’s office in November or December 1998. He found additional documents including bank records in plain view on Leslie’s conference table. He copied and then returned the papers.
Even Sgt. Jim Potter, a lowly school resource officer—who was out of the departmental rumor loop—wondered why the sheriff was acting so out of character. For years, Leslie had been a hands-off administrator, so why was the top lawman suddenly acting like a school crossing guard, routinely helping escort prisoners from the main jail to the annex?
Shipley combined his documents with Beardslee’s and used them as part of an anonymous letter he sent to District Attorney Tim Chambers in March 1999.
Chambers contacted the Kansas State Attorney General’s Office and requested an investigation.
Eventually, on his way out the district attorney’s door in January 2001, after an unsatisfactory response from the AG’s office, the judge-elect requested help from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Back in the Reno County jail on January 3, 2003, Sheriff Randy Henderson drinks coffee from a Styrofoam cup while talking with prisoner Leslie about jail procedures. Leslie is being sent to Saline County to serve his sentence of up to one year, if no restitution is paid.
Soon, Leslie, wearing handcuffs and leg irons, is taken down the jail’s elevator to the indoor parking basement. Once seat-belted into the jail van, the uniformed driver starts the vehicle and notifies dispatch he’s “10-15” in route to the Saline County jail with a prisoner.
As the basement overhead door opens and the jail van nudges up the concrete incline, Leslie blinks, sees the welcome sky, and visually scans the parking lot for familiar faces.
For the first time, since being hired as a patrol deputy in 1967, he’s a handcuffed prisoner in the back seat of a sheriff’s vehicle.
Leslie hopes his year of incarceration will go quickly. He knows there won’t be any early release. His illicit money is all gone. He did the crime, now he must do the time.
As Leslie watches the deputy in the front passenger seat drink coffee from a Styrofoam cup, he thinks, they could be saving money if they’d just purchase plastic cups.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.