by Ivan Foley
Fifteen days in jail and $125,000 in restitution.
That was the punishment handed down Thursday by a judge to Kevin Rawlings, former board president for the Northland Regional Ambulance District, who had recently pled guilty to a corruption charge.
Rawlings, 40, of Dearborn, had entered a guilty plea to misusing official information in his role as president of the taxpayer-funded ambulance district’s elected board of directors.
Judge Dennis Eckold could have given Rawlings 30 days in jail on the misdemeanor charge. Instead he opted for 15 days in jail, which Rawlings was ordered to begin at 5 p.m. on the day of the sentencing.
Eckold indicated he was giving Rawlings till 5 p.m. that day to report to jail to allow the farmer time to return home to “take care of” his cattle.
The $125,000 restitution needs to be paid within 30 days, the judge said.
In addition, Rawlings must pay $650 to the prosecutor’s office to cover the costs of an appraisal of land that was included in a shady land deal that led to Rawlings being charged with the crime.
Rawlings, who declined comment after his sentence was announced, was elected to the board of directors of the Northland Regional Ambulance District in 2006. As early as 2008, Rawlings knew that NRAD planned to build a new station in the area of U Highway and the Camden Point exit off Interstate 29.
In April 2010, Rawlings purchased approximately 34 acres in that area for $130,000. During a Sept. 20, 2010 board meeting, Rawlings directed then-NRAD Executive Director Tom Taylor to begin searching for available property in the same area.
In October 2010, the NRAD board voted to begin negotiations to purchase two acres of the land owned by Rawlings. The board directed an appraisal of the land to be completed; however, no appraisal was ever completed.
During a Nov. 15, 2010 board meeting closed to the public, NRAD’s attorney suggested that bid specifications be drawn to solicit bids from the public for property in the Camden Point area. Bids were posted in local newspapers, and no bid closing date was included in the advertisements for bid.
When another potential land seller in the area came forward, Rawlings allegedly directed Thomas to reply that NRAD already has “a contract on [the] ground” and that NRAD “won’t be needing any more” bids.
In March 2011, Rawlings sold 1.53 acres of land to NRAD for $175,000. An appraiser hired by the State valued the property at $30,600; however, an appraiser for Rawlings said the property was worth $65,000.
Zahnd had urged the court to set restitution at $144,400, the difference between the sale price and the state’s appraisal.
Both the prosecutor and Platte County Sheriff Richard Anderson said a criminal investigation into the land deal began after they read reports of the situation in The Landmark and viewed reports on KSHB-TV Channel 41.
In the hallway outside the courtroom after the judge had announced his decision, Zahnd said: “I believe $144,400 is the appropriate amount of restitution in this case. The lesser amount ordered by Judge Eckold makes it entirely possible that money properly belonging to the taxpayers will be kept by the man whose crime allowed him to obtain that money in the first place. However, we accept the judge’s decision.”
The judge remarked in Thursday’s hearing that he was giving Rawlings’ financial credit for dirt work that he had performed on the property. Rawlings had testified he invested $5,000 to $10,000 in dirt work on the ground.