Crime & Courts

Kansas town’s treasurer goes to prison after stealing money from taxpayers, feds say

The former treasurer of a northeast Kansas town has been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to stealing money from taxpayers and lying on her income tax returns.

Deborah Sell, 56, of Fontana, was sentenced Monday after previously pleading guilty to wire fraud and filing a false tax return, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a news release. In her plea, Sell admitted that she embezzled more than $174,000 from Fontana while serving as city treasurer.

Fontana is a town of about 220 people in Miami County, about 57 miles south of downtown Kansas City.

“The nature and circumstances of the offense warrant a sentence of imprisonment, but her extraordinary acceptance of responsibility for her crimes support a variance,” federal prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Sell admitted her crimes during an interview after federal investigators executed a search warrant at her home in June 2017, prosecutors said.

Sell’s embezzlement scheme involved defrauding the city through three ways, starting in July 2015, according to her plea deal. She issued city checks to pay for her own personal expenses, used a city bank account’s debit card to withdraw cash she kept for herself, and kept a portion of the cash taxpayers gave her to pay for city services and fees, such as water utility bills.

The wire fraud charge stemmed from an instance in February 2017 where Sell used a city debit card to withdraw more than $400 from an ATM at a casino in Riverside, Missouri. The filing of a false tax return charge was added because the return she filed in April 2017 did not include about $94,000 that she had embezzled from the city in the previous tax year.

In addition to the prison time, the judge also ordered Sell to pay restitution of about $135,000 to Fontana, $39,000 to an insurance company and about $31,000 to the IRS.

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