You may have heard that David Zakrzewski, longtime CEO of North Little Rock’s Coulson Oil Co., resigned and was replaced by former Vice President and COO John Harris.
If Harris’ name sounds familiar to you, it did to us too: He’s the same John Harris who was director of the Arkansas State Board of Architects.
There Harris was involved in serious controversy when a state audit found that between 2003 and 2006 he had falsely claimed to have driven 142,429 miles of business travel and had received $105,140 in unauthorized reimbursements.
Harris resigned from the board and repaid the money — and at about the same time joined Coulson Oil, where his lawyer, Beth Coulson, is part of the family — but a criminal investigation followed.
The investigation resulted in a federal court jury convicting Harris in 2008 of six counts of mail fraud in connection with the reimbursement requests. The maximum penalty for each count was 20 years in prison. At a sentencing hearing more than a year later, U.S. District Judge James Moody called the case “the most complicated sentencing issue I’ve heard, legally or factually.”
Moody couldn’t find evidence that Harris intended for the board to lose money — and no evidence that the board had even lost money at all.
Moody believed that the situation represented aberrant behavior on Harris’ part, and since Harris had already repaid the funds, had lost his law license and had suffered public humiliation, Moody let him off lightly with three years of probation, now a thing of the past.
Harris told Whispers that the case “stands on its own. It was a situation where I was following procedures put in place by prior individuals on the board. The court found no misappropriation of funds and ordered no restitution and no penalty.”