Monday, July 30, 2018

Embezzling Jasper R-5 Board Secretary to judge: Words cannot express the remorse I feel for my crimes

Sentencing for former Jasper R-5 board secretary Karla Justice (formerly Jessee) for embezzling more than $145,000 from the district is set for Tuesday and she is hoping to avoid prison time.

In last minute filings Justice, her lawyer, her former husband, friends, a social worker and people from her church asked Judge Douglas Harpool to give her a lighter sentence.

"Words cannot express the remorse I feel for the crimes I committed," Justice wrote. "At the time, I was in a very dark place and felt backed into a corner. I have struggled financially my entire life and being the oldest of 10 children has always made me feel as though it was my responsibility to help out each member of my family."

Justice acknowledged she stole the money and described the thievery as "shameful."

Justice's lawyer, Elizabeth Turner, said the methods used by Justice to steal the money should earn her a lighter sentence since sentencing guidelines call for more time for a "sophisticiated" scheme and Justice's crimes were anything but sophisticated.

"She wrote checks from the school accounts to family members, which would appear on bank statements and deposited checks and monthly on bank statements to the school district. If Ms. Justice was attempting to conduct a sophisticated scheme, it could be assumed she would have attempted to conceal her wrongdoing. This would also apply to the credit car transactions Ms. Justice was charging on behalf of the school district for her personal gain."

The fact that Justice's self dealings made her the highest paid employee in the district was also a dead giveaway, Turner noted.

Turner asked Judge Harpool to take Justice's difficult upbringing into consideration, noting that when Justice was six, her alcoholic father began beating her mother and that Justice was sexually abused from ages eight to 12 and never received counseling.

Turner said Justice is receiving professional help and is involved in Camp Joy Ministries.

Justice's former husband Darren Jessee, while agreeing that she was guilty, indicated there were others who were responsible for the Jasper R-5 School District's bleak financial condition.

"She has admitted guilt, but many of the discrepancies that are claimed I believe are legitimate expenses that were approved by the school's superintendent and board. The school district has made many poor decisions and were able to make Karla the scapegoat for everything."

Justice's crime was described in an earlier court filing:

Based on a referral from the Jasper County, Missouri, Sheriff’s Office, 0n February 10, 2017, Special Agent (SA) Jason Ruyle, with the United States Secret Service (USSS), initiated an embezzlement investigation involving JUSTICE.

During his investigation, SA Ruyle learned JUSTICE was responsible for the payroll for the DISTRICT and the DISTICT’s school board. JUSTICE had access to the DISTRICT’s petty cash checkbook and signatory authority for this account. Further, JUSTICE had access to the signature stamps of school officials, which effectively gave her complete access to funds within the school district’s operating account. JUSTICE’s positions with the school district gave her unrestricted access to the account and payroll systems for the school district, including posting entries, making changes, making journal entries, performing any reconciliations, entering and changing employee i

information into the payroll system, and presenting financial reports and information to the School Board for the DISTRICT.

JUSTICE essentially had unlimited access to every aspect of the account and human resources functions for the DISTRICT. 

Upon meeting with school officials, SA Ruyle learned that the DISTRICT had experienced financial difficulties and had began analyzing its budget. During the DISTRICT’s financial analysis, officials noted irregularities in payroll payments made by the DISTRICT, unexplained credit card payments, and missing monies from the petty cash account. School officials observed that these irregularities and missing monies fell under the supervision of JUSTICE. School officials approached JUSTICE and asked her to reconcile and explain the irregularities and short fall in monies. After receiving the DISTRICT’s request to reconcile the irregularities, JUSTICE immediately wrote out a letter of resignation and provided it to school officials.

On March 29, 2017, the DISTRICT hired BKD CPAs and Advisors to conduct a financial forensic audit of the School District’s accounts. BKD’s financial forensic audit of the DISTRICT’s accounts reviewed payroll, petty cash, retirement contributions, checks cashed, credit card transactions, and purchases of DISTRICT assets for personal use. BKD’s report and a subsequent review by the USSS found JUSTICE had paid herself additional monies, compensation and salary, above the amount noted within her contract. The financial audit revealed that JUSTICE, without authority and without providing the services required for such payments, issued herself additional payroll payments, compensation and money from the DISTRICT’s various bank accounts. JUSTICE also received greater retirement contributions as a result of the increased payroll that she fraudulently issued to herself.

The investigation revealed that the payroll payments received by JUSTICE were made through the withdrawal of monies from the bank accounts of the DISTRICT, resulting in the deposit of monies into JUSTICE’s personal bank account. The resulting wire transmissions between the two financial institutions crossed interstate boundaries, constituting interstate commerce. BKD’s audit found that between 2014 and 2017, JUSTICE fraudulently authorized $80,858.15, in additional payroll above and beyond the amount allowed under her employment contract with the School District. As a result of the fraudulently received payroll JUSTICE also received an additional $6,731.67 in employer retirement contributions, and $6,530.40 in Social Security and Medicare contributions that she would not have received otherwise.

In addition to the fraudulently obtained payroll and retirement contributions, the BKD audit and subsequent law enforcement investigation revealed other areas in which JUSTICE either embezzled monies from the DISTRICT or fraudulently used credit cards in the name of the DISTRICT to pay for her personal expenses. JUSTICE held sole signatory authority for the petty cash account for the DISTRICT. The investigation discovered numerous transactions, including checks and E-checks that totaled $13,929.53 in transactions that were conducted by JUSTICE to pay for personal expenses that were unrelated to the activities of the DISTRICT, and were not authorized by the DISTRICT.

The investigation further revealed numerous checks that had been written on the operating account for the DISTRICT. According to DISTRICT procedures, JUSTICE did not have authority to write checks to this account but she did have access to the signature stamps for school officials, who did have signatory authority over this account. Several employees with the DISTRICT informed investigators that JUSTICE repeatedly asked them to cash checks for her. School officials told investigators that each of the checks discovered during the investigation were fraudulently created and JUSTICE’s request that other employees cash these checks and give her the money was done to bypass safety measures created to prevent employees from directly cashing checks made out to themselves.


Marie McCorkle said...

This is absolutely unbelievable! She has been proven to be a thief, and she should serve several years behind bars, IMO!

Anonymous said...

She should be behind bars.....however, where was the Superintendent, Board and Auditors wondering why a secretary was the highest paid employee in the district? And, there was more than one superintendent during this time.......makes you wonder....

Anonymous said...

She should have thought of her family, kids, grandkids and friends while she was doing the they would feel......she should be behind bars and have to make restitution......hopefully, she never gets another job where she handles any kind of money.

Jennifer Strickland said...

Her remorse is from getting caught not from what she did. It is absolutely saddening the amount of people this effected while she was in her “dark place.” So many jobs lost and activities/programs taken away from the Jasper School district because of her actions.

Anonymous said...

Everyone makes mistakes. Yes, some are bigger than others. But I truly believe everyone deserves a second chance. She's admitted what she did was wrong. That's saying a lot, these days.

Anonymous said...

She has done this all her entire adult life and has gotten away with it. She cares about only herself.

Anonymous said...

Were these programs reinstated after the school was reimbursed for their losses?

Phil Hess said...

Anyone interested in Jasper schools is welcome to call or visit the superintendent has an open door policy. better call first she is also the high school principal to save money so she can be a little busy. All admin people there where many hats idea being is to cut at the top first it seems to be working they are no longer in danger of closing. they bought a new buss and two used ones. at times last year, they had trouble running bus routes and keeping up with team sports transportation.

Former Jasper student said...

OKAY....... If there were "discrepancies" on where some money had turned up missing, and discrepancies on why a SECRETARY was getting more pay then a principle or a superintendent, then there WAS a liability on the school board, & Jasper's Administration AS A WHOLE.
So, WHY did the school board & administration not look into the SOURCE of who deals with the schools money in the first place?! I will always feel that this whole issue STRICTLY lies in the hands of the school as a whole AND the administration.
Jessee wasn't the ONLY person who made kids suffer without getting a good education & resources..... It was the JASPER SCHOOL DISTRICT who made us suffer a significant financial loss!