A former Kentucky police chief was sentenced Friday to five months behind bars after being accused of stealing more than $25,000.
Jason D. Cross, who was police chief in Columbia, took the money between February 2020 and February 2021, according to a news release from Michael A. Bennett, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, and Kentucky State Police Commissioner Phillip Burnett Jr.
Cross took money from the evidence room at the Columbia Police Department and from a fund used to make undercover drug buys, according to the release.
Cross will be on supervised release for a year after completing his jail time.
Cross, 46, began working as a deputy sheriff in Adair County in March 1999 and then took a job with the police department in Columbia in 2001, ultimately becoming chief. He retired March 1, 2021, according to a court document.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser said in a sentencing memorandum that the officer who took over as chief after Cross, Junior Murphy, ordered an audit of the evidence room which showed that $18,990 in cash seized in various cases was missing.
One example involved $9,750 that police seized during the search of a motel room.
After officers counted the money and put it in an evidence bag, they gave it to Cross. The bag and money were not in the evidence room during the audit, according to the prosecution memo.
Murphy contacted Cross during the audit and asked if it would show problems.
Cross told him that the $9,750 from the hotel search was in a locked cabinet at the police department, not in the evidence room, the memo said.
When Murphy had a locksmith open the cabinet, he found the evidence bag torn open and the money missing, according to Weiser’s memo.
Cross later asked Murphy to come and pick up guns and clothing he had that belonged to the police department.
When Murphy got to Cross’ house, Cross directed him to the dining room, where there were six torn evidence bags on the table with cash on top of each, as well as two envelopes of cash from evidence bags Cross had apparently misplaced, the memo said.
There also was a Ziploc bag with $9,742, representing the missing cash from the hotel room search, but the serial numbers did not match those on the bills police had initially seized and recorded, according to Weiser’s memo.
Some of the bills Cross turned over to police were crisp $100 bills with consecutive serial numbers — not consistent with what police would expect to seize from a street-level drug dealer, the memo said.
The implication was that Cross replaced the money he took with other cash to cover the theft.
Weiser said that while awaiting sentencing, Cross gave court officials a “fantastical account” claiming he accidentally took home a plastic box from the office and discovered a month later that “it magically happened to contain over $18,000 in cash missing from the evidence room.”
Records also showed that Cross had requested $9,000 from the fund to make undercover drug buys, but officers only used $1,995, leaving $7,005 unaccounted for, according to the prosecutor.
Cross’ attorney told Scott Hammond, a state police detective, in May 2021 that if he was looking for missing drug-buy money, it was under a safe near the police chief’s office.
An officer looked under the safe, which is in a hallway and has legs so there is a space under it, and found a bank bag containing $6,920, Weiser said.
Police speculate that after Cross figured out Hammond was investigating the drug-buy fund, Cross gave the bag of cash to a friend who surreptitiously left it under the safe, according to the prosecutor.
Cross’ attorney, Frank Mascagni III, said in a sentencing memo that Cross returned the $18,000 and that he had “stored” about $7,000 under a safe “which was never removed” from the police department.
“There are facts in dispute and certainly the interpretation of those facts remain in dispute,” Mascagni said of the case.
Cross entered an Alford plea in the case, meaning he did not admit guilt but acknowledged there was sufficient evidence for a conviction.
The effect in a criminal case is the same as for a guilty plea..