NEBRASKA CITY — A judge chose fines as outgoing Lancaster County Treasurer Andy Stebbing's punishment Wednesday on three misdemeanor charges related to his private sale of vehicles.
“I’m certainly glad it’s over. It’s time to move on,” Stebbing said in the courtroom hallway here afterward.
In September, in a deal with prosecutors, who dropped three felony charges, the 54-year-old pleaded no contest to attempting to provide false information on a bill of sale and two counts of attempting to act as an unlicensed motor vehicle dealer.
In court Wednesday, Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Barb Armstead took issue with information Stebbing's attorney, Sean Brennan, gave the judge suggesting the state had dropped the felony charges because it couldn’t prove them.
“The state did what it normally does and came to an agreement that would be consistent with similar circumstances across the state,” Armstead said.
She said it seemed Stebbing was blaming others. She didn’t ask Johnson County District Judge Julie Smith for any specific sentence, but did ask her to consider including jail time if she chose probation.
Stebbing could’ve gotten up to a year behind bars on each of the three counts.
Prosecutors say Stebbing was selling vehicles as a business without a dealer's license, using Craigslist and Facebook to sell 12 vehicles in a yearlong period and trying to sell a 13th, and that he didn't report the accurate amount on the bill of sale of one of the vehicles.
Under state law, anyone who sells more than eight vehicles in a 12-month span must register with the state as a dealer.
Prosecutors later dropped two charges alleging that he had filed false income tax returns and a third charge alleging he had falsified a bill of sale, all felonies.
Wednesday, Stebbing, a longtime former Lancaster County sheriff's deputy, told the judge he was devastated when he learned about the charges, but said he only looked introspectively about what he had done wrong after they were filed.
“I have never cast blame on anybody but myself,” he told the judge.
Stebbing said he built a career on serving others and enforcing Nebraska’s laws and in no way meant to violate state statutes. He said he took full responsibility for not inquiring further into auto licensing paperwork. An omission on the bill of sale was simply an oversight in haste he feels bad about, he said.
"I apologize to not only my family and friends but my constituents, who had so much trust in me,” he said.
As for the tax return charges that were dropped, Brennan said the state couldn’t prove them.
“The evidence just wasn’t there,” he said.
And, he said, while he did point out inaccuracies in investigative reports given to the judge, it wasn't meant as an attack on the investigation or an attempt to put blame on anyone but Stebbing.
“He was responsible,” Brennan said.
Brennan said it was clear Stebbing didn't intentionally violate the law, even though his actions did. He said a lot of people do the same thing and never know they violated the law, and he asked for fines, saying probation or imprisonment weren’t necessary in this case.
Smith agreed, fining Stebbing $2,500 and saying that his long history in law enforcement and clean record indicated he was a very low risk to reoffend.
Stebbing was elected county treasurer in 2010 and won re-election in 2014 before running for Lincoln mayor in 2015 and losing to Chris Beutler. Stebbing's pursuit of a third term as county treasurer ended in May, when he came in third in the Republican primary.
Voters Tuesday chose Democrat Rachel Garver to be Stebbing's replacement.
Asked if it was a bittersweet moment, given that he could've been looking forward to an additional term, Stebbing said he has "no ill will towards anybody at all."
"When you get into the elected official business, you know it’s temporary,” he said.
Stebbing said he welcomes and applauds Garver for winning the election and looks forward to working with her for a smooth transition.
As for what's next for him, Stebbing said offers are coming in, but he doesn’t know yet exactly what he’ll do. But it will be serving others, he said.