Former police chief pleads guilty to gun crime

Former police chief pleads guilty to gun crime

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) - The former police chief for Bald Knob pleaded guilty Monday in Little Rock to possession of a stolen firearm.

In exchange for his guilty plea, 31-year-old Erek Balentine agreed to pay more than $12,000 in restitution.

Christopher R. Thyer, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said Balentine's last day as Bald Knob police chief was Oct. 5, 2015.

Earlier that year, Thyer said Balentine spoke with a former White County police officer who was interested in donating a shotgun to the police department.

At the time, the department was trying to raise money for a K9 unit.

The gun, Thyer said, was to be auctioned off to retrofit a police car with a cage to hold the K9 unit.

The former officer bought the Beretta Model A300 12-gauge shotgun for $1,199 and had it shipped to All Star Pawn in Bald Knob.

Thyer said the donor intended for the pawn shop to hold the gun and make a legal transfer to the winner of the auction.

On Oct. 2, 2015, the last business day he was still police chief, Balentine retrieved the shotgun from the store.

Two weeks later an Arkansas State Police investigator received word that Balentine was "attempting to sell the shotgun, which was still police property," to an acquaintance, Thyer stated in a news release.

Balentine reportedly told the acquaintance he needed the money for "personal reasons."

Following this communication, agents observed Balentine go to his home and retrieve the weapon.

ASP Corporal Mike McNeill and ATF Special Agent David Oliver initiated a traffic stop on Balentine at which time he admitted he had the gun in his car, Thyer said.

During Monday's plea hearing, in addition to admitting to having the stolen firearm, Balentine did not contest claims he made a fraudulent insurance claim for a vehicle fire.

The $12,968.71 restitution, Thyer said, is designed to repay Progressive Insurance for payments from the fire which destroyed Balentine's 2007 Dodge Ram pickup truck.

The fire happened in September 2015 at Balentine's Bald Knob home.

Thyer stated U.S. prosecutors presented "numerous examples of evidence which suggest that Balentine was a participant in causing the fire which resulted in the damage to his truck."

Federal prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller they would not pursue charges for arson and mail fraud, and Balentine agreed to repay restitution.

The charge of possession of a stolen firearm carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison; a $250,000 fine; and 3 years of supervised release.

Miller will sentence Balentine at a later date.

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