ANGLETON — Freeport’s former city manager pleaded guilty Tuesday to portions of an aggregated theft charge related to stealing more than $223,000 from the city, court documents show.
Jeffrey Scott Pynes, 53, faces up to 99 years in prison when Judge Terri Holder sentences him next year, but is also eligible for probation.
“There is no plea bargain,” District Attorney Jeri Yenne said. “Jeff Pynes pled open to the court.”
This means there will be a contested sentencing hearing Jan. 21, where the state will seek penitentiary time and the defendant will seek probation, she said.
Pynes will not be able to appeal his plea, according to the agreement he signed Tuesday morning.
“Today, Mr. Pynes took the first step in moving forward,” his attorney, Chip Lewis, said by email. “Mr. Pynes accepts responsibility for mistakes he made during his tenure as City Manager.”
Thousands of records and many interviews of people involved in the transactions described in the indictment showed that the city of Freeport lacked the proper protocols, procedures and guidance necessary for proper city governance in this day and age, Lewis said in the emailed statement.
“Many of these shortcomings were exacerbated by strong personality clashes and personal agendas that were inconsistent with the proper governance,” the email said.
Mayor Troy Brimage also expressed hope of moving forward.
“Our biggest goal ... today more than ever is to put all of this behind us for the better of the City of Freeport,” Brimage said. “We can’t change anything that happened in the past. All we can do and what we’ve done is create programs and put people in place to do our best to keep it from ever happening again.”
Pynes betrayed his duties as a public servant and the betrayal is “a slap in the face to every honest and hard-working public servant in Brazoria County,” Freeport City Manager Tim Kelty said in an emailed statement.
“I am glad Mr. Pynes is ready to accept the consequences of his actions,” Kelty said in the email. “As a 20-year public servant, I understand that the ‘Public Trust’ is something to be guarded and nurtured, not abused. When it is betrayed, those of us remaining have to fight long and hard to earn it back.”
The city has demonstrated its commitment to that ideal over the last year, Kelty said.
He pleaded guilty to four of eight paragraphs in the indictment, court records show, and pleaded “no contest” to the remaining four paragraphs, which is a plea of neither guilt nor innocence.
Pynes was arrested on the first-degree felony theft by public servant charge on June 22, 2018 and was released on a $45,000 bond the next day, online records show.
Freeport officials and Pynes agreed on a “mutual termination” in November 2017. He had been the city manager since October 2008 and was the city’s police chief for more than two years before that.
When the two parted ways, City Council noticed what it called apparent inconsistencies in the Freeport Historical Museum Foundation’s finances, and the city ordered an audit, Brimage previously said.
Two paragraphs to which Pynes pleaded guilty relate to transferring payments to Christopher Wenz under a guise of city projects, which were transferred back to Pynes in payments in November 2016 and February 2017.
The two other paragraphs Pynes admitted guilt to state Pynes deposited Freeport’s money into another bank account in April 2016. The city’s money came from companies that had put money down toward planned projects and the account was a private museum foundation account Pynes had set up, Yenne previously said.
“They put the money with the city down in good faith, and Pynes took it,” Yenne said.
A paragraph to which he pleaded no contest involved alleged theft in December 2016 involving Wenz. Others involve incidents in December 2016 and January 2017 in which Heath Beeman allegedly transferred money back to Pynes in single payments for each instance. Another, in July 2017, involves the transfer of the city’s money to a bank account.
Beeman is awaiting trial on a state-jail felony theft charge relating to Pyne’s charge and Wenz faces a third-degree felony theft charge, online records show. They are both set for trial on Jan. 21, the same day Pynes’ pre-sentence investigation is set to begin.
That hearing will allow witnesses to be called and will probably last several days, Yenne said.
“Judge Holder will conduct a fulsome sentencing hearing to consider all of the relevant information in determining the appropriate sentence,” Lewis said by email. “We will ensure the court is provided with testimony illustrating Mr. Pynes’ years of public service, commitment to giving back to his community and stellar reputation among the many lives he has touched.”
Brimage said the punishment will be left up to the professionals.
“It’s not our job to determine sentencing, our concern is Freeport,” Brimage said.