FLAGSTAFF — On Oct. 4 in the Coconino County Superior Court, former Navajo County Public Health Director Jeffrey P. Lee was set to plead guilty to three felonies out of 16 criminal counts contained in a grand jury indictment filed against him on Dec. 15, 2020.
He had pleaded not guilty to all of them in January 2021. Lee signed a plea agreement on Sept. 29, and it is is quite detailed. As explained below, if the judge goes along with the agreement, Lee will be placed on probation for two of the counts, but on the third one, he could go to prison or get probation, that is up to the judge.But one thing is clear: he definitely will spend nine months flat time (no two days for one) in the county jail on the third count.
Before his tenure with Navajo County, Lee served as a public health director in Coconino County. The counts he admitted guilt to are: Count 1, for violating his duties as a custodian of public monies, a Class 4 felony committed in July 2013 and April 2017 while at Coconino County; Count 2, Theft, a Class 3 Felony, committed between October 2014 and December 2016 while at Coconino County and Count 14, another count of violating his duty as a custodian of public monies committed in March 2019 and September 2019 while he was at Navajo County.
In May 2020, the Independent reported on an audit by the Arizona Auditor General about irregular charges Lee made to Navajo County in the fiscal year 2019 which ended on June 30, 2019. To resolve the problems the audit identified, Lee repaid to that county a net amount of $3,965 which was the total of improperly claimed expenses the audit identified, less legitimate mileage expenses Lee was entitled to but never asked reimbursement for.
But in the meantime, the same Auditor General started looking into Lee’s time with Coconino County. Count one of the indictment reflects the audit’s finding that Lee made 237 personal purchases totaling $82,500 in the timeframe described above. Items purchased were said to include gift cards, family cell phones, clothing, camping products, tools, electronics, an Apple watch, a clothes dryer, a freezer and other items.
The theft charges (including Count 2) seemingly relate to purchases while he was at Coconino County as well. For example, apparently Lee had the county pay a boat storage place for 14 months, claiming that “emergency supplies” for the county were stored there. The auditor says it was a “27’ travel trailer,” and Lee’s home address was on the lease; Coconino County was not.
Count 14 regards activity in Navajo County wherein Lee used a county credit card for things like hotel rooms, conference fees, out of state airfare and meals. At the end of the audit about his activities in Navajo County, as stated, he paid back most of the money.
The plea agreement gives the judge some options with regard to sending Lee to prison. For counts 1 and 2 the parties agreed that Lee will avoid prison and will be placed on probation with terms such as paying $84,3312 in restitution to the counties — $1,762 to Navajo, and the rest to Coconino. He will have to provide a sample of his DNA pursuant to law, to be kept in a law enforcement database. The purpose of the DNA requirement in violent or sex crimes is obvious — why the law requires that in financial crimes is not clear. In a probation sentence, which avoids prison, the law says he could be sentenced to up to one year in a county jail.
Count 14 however is the wild card. He could be sentenced to prison for anywhere from one and one half years to three and three-quarters years. If the court decides on probation for Lee on Count 14, he will have to serve “not less than” nine months in the county jail (not prison) according to the plea agreement.
His next court date, probably his sentencing is set for Nov. 23.