BOWLING GREEN, KY. – A federal judge has sentenced former police chief Jason Cross to five months in prison.
Cross entered an Alford plea to one felony theft count in July, declaring his innocence but acknowledging that a jury trial could lead to a conviction.
An Alford plea is treated the same as a guilty plea but does not require the defendant to admit guilt.
Cross, 45, was accused of stealing more than $25,000 from the city during his last year as chief. He retired March 1, 2021.
In a pre-sentencing memorandum, U.S Attorney David Weiser writes that Cross was offered a plea agreement that would include probation if Cross pleaded guilty and paid full restitution. Instead, Cross entered an Alford plea.
Weiser continued to recommend probation but said he believed Cross fell short of accepting responsibility for his actions.
During Friday’s hearing, Cross said he accepts responsibility for his actions and asked for forgiveness from his family, friends, co-workers and community.
Cross has acknowledged that he took $18,000 “without permission” but has said it was in a tote he took home when he retired. He does not acknowledge taking the money from the city police department’s evidence room nor has he explained why the money that was returned to the city does not match the original bills from the evidence.
There is also a question about more than $7,000 in funds Cross received for the department to use as drug buys that went missing until Cross said it was in an envelope underneath a safe at the police department.
Chief Judge Greg N. Stivers made several comments that Cross failed to accept accountability that he purposely took the funds. He called Cross’ explanation that he put the drug funds under a safe in an open area of the police department “outrageous.”
While Stivers said Cross had 20 years of service to his community and “did great good,” he said the “violation of trust is significant.”
He also questioned how probation would appear to other officers who would see the penalty as a “slap on the wrist.”
Stivers continued to question the amount of accountability Cross was willing to accept.
“Mr Cross wants this court to accept the fact that he did not intentionally take this money,” Stivers said.
Stivers said he rejected the prosecution’s recommendation of probation. In determining a sentence in federal court, a Presentence Investigative Report is developed that weighs multiple factors to reduce disparity in sentencing. Stievers agreed to follow new guidelines taking effect Nov. 1, which would drop the recommended sentence from 15-21 months to 10-16 months.
He chose a lesser sentence, however, and sentenced Cross to 5 months in federal prison followed by one year of supervision. Cross will be placed in a prison as close to home as possible while taking into consideration that he was a police officer and the need to minimize danger. He is being allowed to coordinate a date to begin his sentencing.
Cross has 14 days to appeal the case. His attorney, Frank Mascagni, apparently surprised that Stivers rejected the recommendation for probation, said he did not wish to comment at this time.
Weiser said, “We are happy to close what is a sad chapter for the city, but no one is above the law.”
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