Tri-City Parks and Rec absolved of fraud allegations

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GUERNSEY – The Platte County Sheriff’s Department investigated Tri-City Parks and Recreation in Guernsey after they were contacted about possible embezzlement on November 21, 2023. After gathering information about the allegations, talking with TCPR board members and researching TCPR’s records and bank statements, the case was closed mid-December with the determination no embezzlement took place.

The call received by the Sheriff’s Department in November was anonymous, but they were told to contact the Cheer and Dance instructors about mishandling of funds by Tri-City Parks and Recreation. Tri-City Parks and Recreation is a public organization that provides activities and sports opportunities, as well as community education and scholarship opportunities for youth and adults in the Guernsey, Sunrise and Hartville (tri-city) area.

The accusation

In the official report compiled by Deputy Cody Keller, former TCPR Cheer instructor Heather Walker cited three different “final amounts” provided by the Board for the same raffle, unaccounted cash envelopes that were not documented for raffle sales, lack of transparency with the TCPR board, and members not being billed appropriately or contacted on a regular basis to pay their dues. She additionally had concerns about personal Venmo accounts being used instead of business accounts and questions about contract negotiations and how much TCPR should be deducting from her paycheck. She also had concerns of seeming lack of transparency or answers about other line items showing where money associated with Cheer and Dance was used or accrued.

Former TCPR Dance instructor Jessica Schreiner had similar concerns of misplaced finances and concern with integrity of the TCPR board members, paychecks and 10-99 forms. According to Deputy Keller’s report, Schreiner is in the process of working with an attorney to address civil issues with TCPR.

Both instructors said they had been having unresolved issues with the board for several months. Deputy Keller told them they needed to contact the IRS to compare 10-99 tax forms to their paychecks.

The Investigation

On December 11 and 12, Deputy Keller met with TCPR board members and staff, including Chairman Danielle Noggle, Vice Chair Geraldine Delgado, administrator Lori Ibarra, and bookkeeper Joan Ibarra. They explained bookkeepers were switched around March 2022, and TCPR has been continuing to find and fix mistakes in addition to bringing more organization to their documenting systems. They also instituted a new billing system which helps them track and bill parents more accurately.

Deputy Keller’s report stated Noggle told him, “There were ample times and meetings to identify and resolve any issues.”

Further, Noggle told the deputy, Cheer and Dance are two separate entities but draw from the same budget. Also, “Cheer and Dance were relatively small and when [Walker] and [Schreiner] took over, the programs grew quickly with well over 50 children involved. With this came new complications on how to manage the finances, bill parents, purchase equipment and make sure the program was self-sufficient.”

The board members told Deputy Keller they “subsidized thousands of dollars to help cover costs from January 2022, and if this continued it would be detrimental for all of TCPR.” 

TCPR told Deputy Keller they held parent meetings where they could provide documentation showing spending and accrual rates, and admitted they handed out one copy, then a week later “issued an updated copy that showed different final numbers.”

The Board also had concerns about cash from the raffles/fundraisers, stating the instructors would bring in envelopes with cash but no receipts documenting where the money came from. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was attempted since all parties were concerned about those cash envelopes, but, “It never made it past the draft stage as the instructors did not want to sign,” according to the Deputy’s report.

TCPR cooperated with Deputy Keller in providing official minutes, financial binders, copies of requested documents and bank statements.

The Conclusion

“Through my investigation I was able to locate the ‘puppy/gun raffle’ fundraiser money in the final amount of $5,526.00. In the financial binders were bank deposit statements as well as receipts. These deposit statements and receipts both showed identical amounts and dates where all deposits were made in the Parks and Rec bank account at Banner Capital Bank in Guernsey. There were also receipts showing the prizes to raffles being purchased and who the raffle winners were,” Deputy Keller said in his official report. “I was also provided with copies of the Venmo account that Parks and Rec used. The account was titled under Lori Ibarra’s name but was used for Parks and Rec. I was able to match up the funds that were paid into Venmo with bank and card statements, seeing the money was moved from Venmo to either the same bank account or a Mastercard debit card linked to the Parks and Rec bank account.”

“Any money that was strictly cash handled by Parks and Rec or the instructors will not be traceable if no receipts were documented with the money,” Deputy Keller stated. “Any other concerns with personal items, instructor pay or backpay and property will be civil. I do not believe any embezzlement took place and this investigation will be closed.”

“I’m sad we weren’t able to work through those things, but we will be a better organization after this, learning from our mistakes,” Noggle said. “I will not make excuses for the Board – we did make mistakes, but we tried to address them immediately when we were made aware of them. We have always tried to be transparent and have welcomed this investigation with open arms, telling [the Sheriff’s Department] they can absolutely have anything they need. The investigation was necessary to prove what the Board knew all along.”

The Board has not commented on social media or in public throughout this whole process even in their own defense because they have wanted to keep professional standards and allow the investigation to proceed unhindered, Noggle explained. “We wanted to focus on being professional and working to keep serving the community. I want to keep on that path, providing opportunities for the community to participate in programs not offered otherwise.”

Noggle said TCPR does not have plans to continue Cheer and Dance programs at this point, since Schreiner and Walker are offering those programs to the community at another location. “We are not here to compete with other things offered to the community, and I know the level of expertise those instructors have,” Noggle said. “I wish those ladies the best.”