Longtime sheriff of Saline County, Mo., admits embezzling

In this 2001 photo, then-sheriff Wally George escorted a prisoner to jail.
In this 2001 photo, then-sheriff Wally George escorted a prisoner to jail. The Kansas City Star

A man said to be the longest-serving sheriff in the history of Missouri pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to embezzling thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds over more than five years.

Wallace Newman George Jr., 70, known as Wally, submitted his resignation on Monday to the Saline County Commission, saying he was retiring on the first day he was able to “without causing or creating the cost of a special election to my fellow Saline County taxpayers.”

But George’s resignation, after 36 years as sheriff, was a condition of the plea bargain he agreed to make.

George, a Saline County native, joined the sheriff’s department in 1970 as a radio dispatcher and jail officer after serving in Vietnam. He was promoted to deputy in 1972 and appointed sheriff in 1979 when the previous sheriff died. George has been re-elected as sheriff ever since.

But George admitted Tuesday to stealing nearly $79,000 from state-issued checks meant to reimburse the county for prisoner expenses. The checks, payable to “Saline County - Sheriff,” were meant to cover the costs of extraditing and transporting prisoners from outside Missouri to the Saline County jail in Marshall, about 90 miles east of Kansas City.

According to court documents, George opened a personal checking account at a Marshall bank into which he deposited the state reimbursement checks. From January 2010 through June 2015, George cashed, deposited or partially deposited 34 reimbursement checks.

George pleaded guilty to one count of stealing from an organization that receives federal funds. The penalty could be up to 10 years in prison, but, under the plea agreement, the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City will recommend a sentence of not more than one year and one day in federal prison.

George paid more than $51,000 in restitution to Saline County on Friday and nearly $28,000 to the state Tuesday. The case was investigated by the FBI and the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service.

In his resignation letter, George said his time with the sheriff’s department “has been the greatest honor of my life, and words can not express my most sincere appreciation to Saline County voters for re-electing me over so many years and allowing me to serve them.”

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC