Gordon sentenced in plea agreement, tells his side of story behind boat sale to the county
Former Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon is speaking out after a judge approved a plea agreement in his criminal trial.
Two felony charges of theft by swindle and making false claims were dropped, leaving a gross misdemeanor charge of misconduct of a public officer, which he pleaded guilty to.
For this gross misdemeanor, Gordon was sentenced to one year in jail, with all of that but 10 days stayed. In lieu of 10 days in jail, he will serve 80 hours of community service and remain on probation for two years. He is also prohibited from renewing his peace officer’s license.
Becker County Judge Jay Carlson accepted the plea deal Tuesday afternoon — an agreement that was struck between Assistant Stearns County Attorney Kevin Voss (who handled the case to avoid a conflict of interest) and Gordon’s attorney, Paul Thorwaldsen of Detroit Lakes. Gordon also paid restitution to the county in the amount of $7,856 and is to pay a $900 fine.
The public eye
Tim Gordon has had his share of media interviews over the last 38 years of his law enforcement career, particularly over the last 10 years when he was Becker County Sheriff.
But when he found himself on the other side of a criminal investigation, he quickly felt the sting of public scorn.
Advised not to talk about the case until after it was all over, Gordon was unable to shield himself or his family with his side of the story — until now.
Gordon’s version of events
“When I found out about this (criminal case), I was devastated,” said Gordon. “Because of opinions and non-factual statements, I was charged with two felonies? That was devastating. And I couldn’t understand why until I was able to read part of the case, and then it all made sense to me.”
Following a yearlong investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension, authorities had reason to believe Gordon may have been guilty of trying to swindle his own county out of money.
It was believed that he utilized a DNR grant to purchase an inflatable dive-rescue boat, motor and trailer from himself for the county for a much inflated price. Investigators also believed that he tried first to mislead the county board through a purchase agreement he had written up that showed the boat was being bought from a place called “Mountain Motors” while it was in fact his boat, and secondly, that he tried to pass the boat off as more valuable than it was, getting a reimbursement check for $7,856 for a boat that was initially appraised at around $3,500.
To investigating authorities, it looked like theft and swindle, and that’s exactly what Gordon was charged with — two felonies that could have sent this retired sheriff on the other side of the bars.
The only information given to the public throughout the duration of the investigation and court proceedings would be that of the prosecution’s.
According to Gordon, although his inability to talk about the case meant the media and the public would only get one side of the story for a while, he wasn’t too worried, armed with what he calls the facts.
“I’ve been in the judicial system long enough to know that I can trust it,” he said, explaining in his words how he found himself in this situation.
“In 2010, when we had a drowning here, we couldn’t get our boat into the water because it was too big – it was 19 feet,” said Gordon, who says he knew the dive team needed a small, light quick response boat. “So I bought this one with my own funds. And over the next year, year and a half, I had over $8,000 into this thing.”
Gordon says he bought the boat used and gradually fixed it up using both his own knowledge and labor and professional welders who installed a deck.
“Certain things were added to the boat to make it tougher,” he said. “All the receipts (for improvement costs) are there — all of them.”
Gordon maintains that although he had the boat registered in his name and covered it under his own insurance, he never used it for personal use.
“I have a nice boat of my own — I didn’t need this,” said Gordon.
In 2012, when Gordon was still sheriff, he says he wrote up a purchase agreement that he presented the county which would use a DNR grant to buy the boat he had been fixing up.
“I didn’t think it was a conflict,” he said, adding that he believed the county was getting a good deal on this much-needed boat that would have cost much more, had he not put his own labor into it.
But Gordon does admit that he misled the county board members into believing that boat was being purchased from “Mountain Motors.” According to court reports, a check for $7,856 was issued to Mountain Motors, which then turned around and paid Gordon the money, minus $250.
So why did he do it this way? Why not just be upfront with the fact that it had been his?
Gordon won’t say exactly why, only alluding to the fact that there were “a lot of reasons” and that “certain people” wouldn’t have let that be possible.
“I got tunnel vision and I was looking at it one way, and that was wrong,” said Gordon.
“I’m not trying to be elusive; I just don’t want to sling mud. I was in a position to over a year, year and a half to put together a piece of necessary equipment (for the county), and I did. And ultimately what was wrong was the way I presented it to the county board. And I take responsibility for that.”
Ultimately, that’s all Gordon had to take responsibility for, as the prosecution ended up dropping the two felony charges of theft by swindle and making false claims.
Gordon’s attorney says that’s due, in part, to the appraisals.
Although the first appraisal came back substantially less than what Gordon received for the equipment, Thorwaldsen says that appraisal was questionable from the start.
“There was a notation from the person (who did the appraisal) that says he was not familiar with inflatable boats,” said Thorwaldsen. “So we obtained an appraisal from J&K Marine, who is familiar with boats in general and inflatable boats. That appraisal valued the boat, motor, trailer and all additional equipment for the dive team (added to the boat), at between $7,500 and $8,000.”
Kevin Tinjum, owner of J&K Marine, confirmed that he had done the second appraisal, and it had come in higher.
Thorwaldsen says he believes if the case had gone to trial, the state would have had a very tough time proving the felony charges of theft and swindle, given the second appraised value.
“How can you be swindling when you’re giving more than you asked for in return?” asked Gordon. “How can you steal something when you donated more? I was flabbergasted by these charges.”
Gordon says opinions and misinformation presented to the BCA and prosecutors are what led to those charges, and he understands that they (investigators) had to play the card they were dealt and proceed with charges based on that information.
“But we were able to dispel a lot of that with real evidence,” said Gordon, who says it’s been a tough year and a half. “And it was tough based on some statements by certain individuals that were very inaccurate at best,” said Gordon, who says while he’s been “beat up more than once” and was able to take it, he felt especially bad for his family.
“To go through what they’ve gone through in the last year and a half… they’ve paid so many dues,” said Gordon. “They’re the ones that saw me working on this boat, seeing me volunteer for different organizations, and then they had to live this. They know their dad, their husband is no thief… a swindler… but we had to prove it, and we did.”
Despite the fact that it may look like Gordon retired so suddenly because of this investigation, he says he retired because after 38 years of missing out on family moments and feeling physically exhausted from putting in extremely long days, he was just ready.
“And if they don’t want me to be a cop again, that’s OK, because I wasn’t going to be anyway,” said Gordon. “There are other things in life, and I’ve got my sixth grandkid now — life is OK.”
Gordon says as somebody who is a stage three cancer survivor of about 12 years, he knows the value of each and every day, and says he refuses to let anger about this case or other people’s opinions of him settle into his heart.
“I know where my heart was in this whole thing; my family and people who know me know where it was,” said Gordon, “and that’s all that really matters.”
Moving forward, Gordon says he plans on giving the boat that was at the center of this case (which is being returned to him) to an organization that needs it.
He is being required to perform 80 hours of community service in the next six months, but that’s a sentence he just smiles at. “I do more than that on certain weeks,” he said, “and I will continue to volunteer and donate.”
Gordon says aside from that, he doesn’t know where the road of retirement will take him.
“Only the Lord knows,” said Gordon, “but I’m sure he’s got something in store for me.”