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Former Thayer city clerk sentenced to prison for embezzling

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at 5:29 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, at 8:58 a.m.

A former Neosho County city clerk will spend a year in federal prison and pay restitution for embezzling $120,000 from Thayer, a southeastern Kansas community of 500 struggling to rebuild its general fund left depleted by the thefts.

Thayer Mayor Anthony Vining described a deteriorating town unable to pay bills, or for needed maintenance and community projects shortly before the former clerk, 50-year-old Laura Whittley, was sentenced on a single count of bank fraud and money laundering Wednesday in U.S. District Court. The thefts have forced city officials to raise the local mill levy and water rates, Vining told the court, and citizens next week will vote on a one-half percent sales tax increase proposed to help alleviate Thayer’s near-bankruptcy.

“At this time we are just financially strapped,” Vining said before Judge Thomas Marten handed down the sentence.

“Right now we don’t have any money to do anything extra – not at all.”

Whittley worked for Thayer for 11 years. She will serve 12 months and one day in prison on each of two counts of stealing at least $120,000 in citizen-paid fees, unauthorized pay and other money from the town. Marten also ordered her to pay restitution to the city and to serve a year of supervision upon her release from prison.

Whittley’s prison terms will run concurrently. She is to report for custody by Jan. 1.

She has no criminal history.

In a final plea to the court Wednesday, defense attorney Kurt Kerns showed a video featuring Whittley interacting with her family. In it, the longtime Thayer resident is described as a loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who frequently babysits and helped with family weddings.

Later, Whittley tearfully apologized for her crimes.

“I just want to say I’m sorry, and I’ll do the best I can to pay it back,” she said.

In May, Whittley admitted to pocketing money paid for utility bills, municipal court payments and wildlife licenses as city clerk. She also told prosecutors she issued herself unauthorized city checks, paid for personal expenses using a city credit card and fraudulently charged the city for cleanup after a May 2009 storm – paid in part using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

In an attempt to conceal the crimes, Whittley used a fraudulent letter to cash a $100,000 city-owned certificate of deposit, then put half of the money in the city’s bank account and the rest in another CD, according to U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom’s Office. The next year, she cashed the second CD to further cover her embezzlement.

In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Furst calculated the city’s loss at closer to $180,000, including $1,421 in credit card charges from gift and home decor retailer LTD Commodities and $10,000 in fraudulent storm cleanup fees.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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