Ex-Arizona county official out of jail due to COVID-19

A former Coconino and Navajo county official serving jail time for siphoning thousands of dollars in public money is back home for now because of COVID-19 spread.

A Coconino County judge granted Jeffrey Preston Lee’s request on Feb. 3 to temporarily carry out his sentence at home, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

He will return in six months and the court will decide if it’s safe for him to go back to jail.

His attorney, Ryan Stevens, originally argued Lee should finish the rest of his sentence at home. Stevens said nearly 140 inmates in Coconino County Detention Facility tested positive for the virus during a three-week period in January. Furthermore, his client has a heart condition that puts him more at risk if he gets COVID-19.

Detention Commander Matthew Figueroa declined to comment on Lee’s case. But he confirmed several positive cases that started the spread were in Lee’s housing unit.

Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols said she did not want to see "a sentence I imposed turning into a death sentence."

Lee, 47, was sentenced in November to nine months for misusing public money to cover more than $84,000 in personal expenses over a six-year span.

The sentence came after he pleaded guilty to one felony count of theft and two felony counts of violating his duties as a custodian of public money.

His plea agreement called for probation on two of the convictions and restitution payments of $82,500 to Coconino County and $1,700 to Navajo County.

The case was filed in Coconino County where Lee worked as an emergency preparedness manager from August 2012 until April 2017. According to state auditors, Lee used Coconino County’s credit card to make 237 purchases on personal items such as electronics, camping products, tools and weight loss supplements.

Lee was accused of similar crimes when he oversaw the Navajo County health department, including 135 suspicious purchases at restaurants, gas stations and clothing stores before being fired.

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