Christian County Sheriff Joey Kyle has agreed to spend a year in jail after pleading guilty Wednesday to embezzling county funds and helping in a fraud scheme.
As part of the plea agreement, Kyle, 53, has resigned as sheriff and will pay more than $50,000 restitution to Christian County before going to federal prison for one year and a day.
The plea agreement, announced Wednesday, comes five months after federal investigators subpoenaed Kyle’s credit card spending records and campaign finance information, along with county audit reports and records involving purchases the county made at six businesses dating back to 2011.
Kyle was seen walking into the federal courthouse at about 2 p.m. County commissioners announced not long after that Kyle had resigned and they would soon be scheduling a special election to replace him.
Kyle was stoic during the court appearance and gave curt responses. He declined to comment after the hearing.
Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a news release that Kyle abused his position.
“This elected sheriff stole taxpayers’ money and treated the county coffers as his own personal piggy bank,” Dickinson said. “Sheriff Kyle took money that was supposed to be for firearms and other supplies needed by his deputies.”
The plea agreement says Kyle submitted phony invoices to the county for things that were never actually purchased.
Kyle allegedly received money from EDI Plus gun store in Nixa and then submitted invoices to the county in matching amounts. The county money then went back to EDI Plus to cover for the money given to Kyle.
The plea agreement also says Kyle received more than $20,000 to help promote an investment fraud scheme for an individual allegedly cheating investors.
The plea agreement says Kyle used his high-ranking position to give credibility to the scheme. Kyle also allegedly shared in the profits of the scheme and hid the money in his law enforcement training company, Five Rivers Management, LLC.
The Missouri Secretary of State filing names Kyle as the registered agent of Five Rivers Management.
Marty Brickey – a Christian County reserve deputy and one of Kyle’s largest campaign contributors – was indicted earlier this month on 30 federal charges in connection with a $14.5 million investment fraud scheme.
The indictment says Brickey duped people into investing in the production of video games that never went to market. It’s unclear at this point if Brickey is the individual Kyle admitted helping commit fraud.
Christian County coroner Brad Cole has been named the interim sheriff in Christian County. Cole said he was told the news a little after 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I’m just trying to get some things taken care of and get to work doing what needs to be done,” Cole said.
Cole said he does not anticipate being in the position long before a new sheriff is chosen at a special election.
Wednesday’s plea agreement says Kyle must also turn over all property that was purchased with county funds, including firearms, ammunition, vehicles, equipment, preserved food (meals-ready-to-eat) and other supplies.
Kyle also has to forfeit to the government a money judgment of more than $70,000, according to the government.
Kyle was charged with one count of embezzling from Christian County and one count of participating in a money-laundering scheme.
Kyle issued the following letter of resignation:
“To the citizens of Christian County, It is with great sadness that I come before you today to tender my resignation as your Sheriff. Events beyond my ability to control have lead to this decision. The employees of the Sheriff’s Office have performed wonderfully these last six and one half years and they continue to do so. Please give them your continued support in the coming days.”
Previous News-Leader reporting has revealed that federal investigators scrutinized at least $82,000 of credit card spending by the sheriff and $444,000 worth of spending between the county and six local businesses – EDI Plus, APT, Ozark Body Works, Ozark Tire, Richard Crites and Fiocchi.
As part of its investigation, the FBI also requested copies of 46 checks written from the county to EDI Plus gun store in Nixa. The purchases paid for with the checks total more than $173,000.
The sheriff’s office was criticized in 2013 when a private audit found an issue with the reporting of personal purchases made with the county-issued credit card.
A state audit in 2010 found that documentation in the sheriff’s office regarding receipts, bills and permits was not adequately kept, resulting in at least $1,720 missing.
Kyle spent 18 years as a Springfield police officer. He was a member of a special operations team trained in rescuing hostages, executing search warrants and using weapons beyond standard issue police firearms.
Kyle also served in the U.S. Navy and is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. Kyle’s law enforcement career began in Scott County. He served as a Christian County deputy and a Republic police officer before being elected sheriff in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.
The Missouri Deputy Sheriffs Association named Kyle “Sheriff of the Year” in 2011.
Attempts to reach Kyle and his attorney on Wednesday were not successful.
Kyle declined to comment to the News-Leader, but he did give an exclusive interview to the Christian County Headliner in which he referenced the recent death of his wife as part of the explanation for why he committed the crimes.
Kyle told the Headliner his family had some financial struggles in dealing with his wife’s medical expenses. Kyle’s wife, Andi, died of cancer in October.
Steve Eidson, owner of EDI Plus, declined to comment on Wednesday, saying he needed more information.
A news release from prosecutors says that EDI Plus was awarded a contract by the county to provide equipment – including firearms and ammunition – for the sheriff’s department from 2011 to 2014.