BENTON — Former Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington pleaded innocent Monday to charges including felonies theft of property and abuse of public trust after an investigation into criminal activity during his time as sheriff.
The special prosecutor who investigated the case, meanwhile, said he expects more charges in the investigation that resulted last month in Pennington and two other former sheriff's office employees facing felony counts.
Pennington, who also faces a misdemeanor theft of property charge, is accused of accepting free granite countertops in exchange for helping a man get out of a community service and taking money from inmate phone cards to pay for his own legal troubles while in office.
Pennington spoke only briefly in his short appearance before Judge Gary Arnold, confirming to the judge that he wanted to enter an innocent plea and request a jury trial.
Arnold set a July 21 pretrial hearing.
"We're going through the process and today was one of the first steps in the process," special prosecutor Cody Hiland said after the appearance. "We're proceeding on in the prosecution."
Pennington declined comment as he left the Saline County Courthouse with his wife, Barbara Pennington, at his side.
Asked about possible federal charges tied to the same investigation, Hiland said he could only confirm "additional jurisdictions" were looking into it. He said he expected more charges would be filed, though he declined to specify whether he meant federal or state charges.
Also appearing in court Monday and entering an innocent plea was JoNell Mallory, the former chief deputy of finance for the sheriff's office who was charged with theft of property and abuse of public trust in the same investigation.
Mallory is accused of having a man's court-ordered fines waived in exchange for him performing tile work in her residence as well as taking money from inmate phone cards "for her own personal use," according to a probable cause affidavit filed in her case. A July 21 hearing was also set for Mallory.
A third former sheriff's office employee, Michael Frost, who had been the lieutenant over the criminal investigations division, was also charged in the investigation with delivery of a controlled substance and illegal use of a communication device. Hiland said Frost already made an appearance in district court and would be arraigned in state court at a later date.
Pennington left office last year after pleading guilty to alcohol-related charges after an arrest at a Benton restaurant. He filed to run for sheriff again but said he chose to withdraw before the primary last month, though his name still appeared on the ballot. He finished in last place among seven candidates vying for the Republican nomination.