Emily Welker, Published January 17 2014
Former Becker County sheriff charged with swindling county
Timothy Michael Gordon, 58, of Detroit Lakes was charged Friday in Becker County District Court with one count of theft by swindle and one count of presentation of a false claim by a public officer, both felonies, and one gross misdemeanor count of misconduct by a public officer.
Gordon was sheriff for 10 years until he resigned in the middle of his term in October 2012. He was sheriff at the time he’s accused of secretly selling his own department a used boat he fixed up, a transaction in which state crime agents allege the county paid nearly $3,900 more than the boat and other items are worth.
At the time of his resignation, Gordon told The Forum his decision to step down had nothing to do with the investigation. In December 2012, his lawyer, Paul Thorwaldsen of Detroit Lakes, told The Forum he had “no indication” of Gordon committing a crime or intending to while he was the sheriff. Gordon had been with the department 34 years before resigning.
Neither Gordon nor Thorwaldsen returned phone messages Friday.
The criminal charges follow a yearlong investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension into a boat purchased by the Becker County Sheriff’s Office through a grant from the Department of Natural Resources, according to a criminal complaint.
After the grant was awarded, Becker County commissioners voted to authorize $7,856 to buy a boat, motor and trailer. The sheriff asked the county to accept the DNR reimbursement grant in July 2012.
Charging documents state that Sheriff’s Office employees first raised a red flag about the boat, trailer and motor purchased with the grant. Officers said all three were old and in poor condition and nowhere worth the purchase price. The serial number on the motor also appeared to be scratched off, they said.
Kelly Shannon, chief deputy at the time and now Becker County sheriff, told BCA investigator Nathaniel Brovold that he first saw the boat in 2011 at Gordon’s home. At the time, Gordon told him he liked to buy things, fix them up and sell them on Craigslist.
Cody Bouchie, the sheriff’s boat and water deputy, told Brovold that Gordon approached him about applying for a DNR grant to buy a boat, and filled out the application with specific prices for the boat, trailer and motor.
Bouchie said the boat had patches on the tubing, the trailer was cheap and flimsy, and the serial number on the motor was scratched off. They weren’t worth what the county paid, he said, and no bids were submitted, as they had in the past for anything the sheriff wanted to buy.
A check of DNR records revealed the same boat was registered to Gordon on Feb. 22, 2010, and then transferred to the Sheriff’s Office on July 25, 2012.
The criminal complaint states Brovold found a purchase and a repair order that indicated the Sheriff’s Office bought the boat, trailer and motor from Mountain Motors in Detroit Lakes.
Brovold interviewed Jeff Albers, the owner of Mountain Motors, who also works as a part-time deputy for the Sheriff’s Office.
Albers initially told Brovold he sold the boat to the county, but then said Gordon came to him saying he wanted to sell his boat to the county and wanted to run it through Albers’ business.
Gordon asked Albers for a purchase order, but all Albers had were repair orders, Albers said, so he gave him a blank repair order instead.
Gordon filled it out with the price of the boat, trailer and motor. When Becker County issued a check for the price of the three to Mountain Motors, Albers wrote Gordon a check for the same amount, minus $250 – the amount Gordon promised him for cooperating with the scheme, court records allege.
Albers acknowledged to Brovold it might not look good to the public if the sheriff sold his boat directly to the county, the complaint says.
Gordon told Brovold he asked Bouchie to apply for the DNR grant for the boat, motor and trailer, and that he acquired all three in the past few years using his own money.
He said he applied for the grant to be reimbursed for his own expenses, which were about $9,000, and that he donated his labor to the county without charge.
Receipts showed Gordon inflated the purchase price of the boat by $2,100, after telling Brovold it cost him $3,380 but paying only $1,280.
Receipts and information provided by employees at a boating company where Gordon bought the motor showed Gordon spent a total of $3,730 for the boat, trailer and motor, or more than twice what the county eventually paid for it.
Two businesses estimated the value of the boat, motor and trailer for Brovold, he states in the complaint. One put the value at $3,400. The other estimated their value at $3,500. Based on those figures, Becker County paid at least $3,875 more than it should have for the items, according to the complaint.
Gordon gave three explanations to Brovold about why he involved Mountain Motors, according to court records: He said he didn’t have an employer identification number for tax purposes. He also said the money could go into the company’s account and be distributed from there. Additionally, he claimed he arranged the sale through Mountain Motors in order to document everything.
The complaint says Gordon admitted he personally paid the transfer and registration fees on the boat and trailer in order to be reimbursed by the DNR grant.
The complaint alleges Gordon admitted giving the county a presentation on the boat and filling out the phony repair order. It also alleges he admitted the county thought it was buying a new boat, not an old one.
Some allegations laid out by Stearns County prosecutors in the criminal complaint appear to contradict information obtained by The Forum in an open records request into the matter and through previously conducted interviews with county and DNR officials.
At the time, county and DNR officials indicated the Sheriff’s Office had not submitted the grant application, nor had the DNR awarded one. The complaint says the DNR did award the grant.
The Department of Revenue was also asked in January 2012 to investigate whether any tax laws had been broken in the scheme, but decided last December not to pursue an investigation. A spokesperson for the department contacted late Friday didn’t have any information about the case.
The Stearns County Attorney’s Criminal Division Chief said no one else faces criminal charges linked to the allegations against Gordon.
His first court appearance is set for Jan. 27.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541