Former state legislator gets prison term in tax case
PHOENIX – A former Arizona state legislator and ex-Pima County justice of the peace has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty in a tax case that his defense lawyer called “a massive fall from grace."
Keith Bee of San Tan Valley was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tucson by Judge James A. Soto, who also ordered Bee to pay restitution of $343,133 including interest.
Bee, who owns a company providing school bus transportation, had previously pleaded guilty to one count of willfully filing a false tax return.
Bee, a Republican, served in the state House from 1991-93 and the Arizona Senate from 1993-2001 representing a Tucson-area district. He was a justice of the peace from 2007-18 and retired from the bench soon after he was indicted.
“While Mr. Bee accepts full responsibility for his actions, it cannot be denied that the circumstances of this case involve a massive fall from grace for a dedicated individual,” defense attorney Michael Piccarreta wrote in a sentencing memo.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Arizona said Bee reduced his company’s profits and the taxes he owed on them or the 2011-3 tax years by inflating his business expenses by including personal expenses and the depreciation of personal assets as if they were costs incurred by his business
Those personal assets included several Ford Mustangs, a Chevrolet Corvette, and a Porsche, and Bee agreed that the tax loss resulting from his conduct was $214,414, the office said in a statement.
“This is a sobering case" involving a judge “who enforced the rule of law by day, disregarded it at night," prosecutors said in a sentencing memo recommending a prison term of eight to 10 months.
“What truly resonates about the criminal conduct in this case is the repeated acts of dishonesty by someone who not only knew better, but was obligated by an ethical code to act better, and had no need whatsoever to cheat," the prosecution memo said.
The sides agreed in a plea agreement on a sentencing range of zero to 10 months in prison. Piccarreta asked for a sentence of five years of probation and restitution but no prison time.
Piccarreta's sentencing memo asked the judge to consider “the defendant’s civic, charitable, public service, and record of prior good works" and his lack of a criminal history.
“Mr. Bee’s current circumstances thus represent a drastic departure from this history," and his years of public service should be a considered a credit in his sentencing, not held against him, Piccarreta wrote.
Imprisonment would likely shutter Bee’s business and force him into bankruptcy, Piccarreta said in the memo.