Newton County, Ark. sheriff appears before state auditing committee

Sheriff thought he was “following the law” in sale of seized firearms.
Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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NEWTON COUNTY, Ark. (KY3) - Following a subpoena, Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler appeared before the Arkansas Legislative Auditing Committee last Friday to answer questions on a transaction by the sheriff’s office in June of 2019.

“The county sheriff sold 103 seized firearms to a gun dealer for $12,150,” said Tim Jones with the Legislative Audit Committee. “Rather than issuing payment to the county, the dealer issued payment to a car dealership, and the sheriff’s office subsequently purchased a vehicle from the dealership using the proceeds from the gun as credit.”

Sheriff Wheeler said he thought the transaction was within the law, citing Arkansas Code Annotated 5-73-130(p)(1), which reads, “The law enforcement agency to which a firearm is forfeited may trade the firearm to a federally licensed firearms dealer for credit toward future purchases by the law enforcement agency. However, according to the committee, that law had not yet gone into effect until six weeks after the transaction. There was also uncertainty in applying that law, as it may only pertain to items surrendered by juveniles.

According to the Legislative Audit Committees’ report of Newton County, the seized weapons should have been sold through public auction.

“I thought I was within my rights to do this. Apparently, I wasn’t, and I apologize for that,” said Sheriff Wheeler. “However, the reason behind not having an auction when I thought this was reasonable and applicable was because of the man-hours involved in an auction, and an agency my size, it’s almost impossible to do.”

Sheriff Wheeler told the committee the transaction was done through Magness Toyota of Harrison. Owner Matt Magness spoke with KY3 Thursday and was able to verify the purchase. Magness Toyota says it did not know any circumstances that would have questioned the legitimacy of the purchase.

Any further action would need to be taken by the prosecuting attorney’s office.

“I know the audit has looked at this some more, and the audit will provide us with more information,” said David Ethredge, prosecuting attorney of the 14th Judicial District of Arkansas. “But with what we’ve been provided so far, I don’t think we have been given enough at this time to something that gives rise to something we’re going to look at prosecuting criminally.”

The prosecutor’s office says it doesn’t believe the transaction was handled by the sheriff’s office properly, but, at this time, there is no evidence of malintent.

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