Archive for Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Deal possible in Basehor theft case

Former clerk could agree to pay restitution

February 12, 2003

Basehor city officials and a former employee charged with embezzling money from the city are close to reaching an agreement that would resolve the case.

Jennifer Srubas-Willis, a former assistant city clerk in charge of handling utility billing and municipal court costs, is charged in Leavenworth County District Court with felony theft and misuse of public funds.

She was scheduled to appear last week for a preliminary hearing with her attorney, Catalina Thompson, of Leavenworth, but the hearing was delayed so an agreement could be finalized, county officials said.

A new hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21.

"A deal is in the works, but only if Basehor agrees first," said Debra Owen, Leavenworth County Victim Witness coordinator. "There will be no plea until then."

Basehor city attorney John Thompson said the deal entails Srubas-Willis paying $15,000 to the city in restitution.

"We have arrived at a figure of $15,000," Thompson said. "That amount will be proposed to the judge for restitution."

Although the agreement has not yet been finalized, Thompson believes the deal will be accepted.

"It's my understanding she has agreed to pay restitution," he said.

Srubas-Willis' attorney, Catalina Thompson, did not return phone calls regarding the proposed deal.

The exact figure allegedly taken from city coffers is unknown.

In December, prosecutor Frank Kohl said the figure could reach as high as $30,000, however, city officials said that number could not be proven in court.

"The number could never be determined," Basehor mayor Joseph Scherer said. "Fifteen thousand is the closest we could ever get."

Kohl offered Srubas-Willis a plea bargain in December but the deal was rejected.

Under the agreement, Kohl would have dropped the felony theft charge -- the lower class felony of the two charges -- in exchange for pleading guilty to misuse of public funds and making full restitution.

The deal was left on the table and Kohl said another would not be offered.

County officials reiterated that sentiment Tuesday morning.

"It is my understanding there won't be a deal for lesser charges. It's my understanding she'll have to plead guilty as charged," Owens said.

The Srubas-Willis case has caused Basehor city officials to make changes to their day-to-day accounting procedures.

Scherer said a series of checks and balances between the city clerk, assistant city clerk and treasurer has been enacted to prevent a similar situation.

"We've put into place new policies and procedures," Scherer said, citing deposits are now made by supervising personnel only, billing adjustments are now reviewed and deposits are now verified and cross referenced by the city treasurer.

The case has also caused city officials to take a more stern look at hiring procedures, the mayor added.

"In the future, the city will do a more detailed background and reference check when hiring any employee to make sure we have qualified employees," he said.

County officials said Srubas-Willis would most likely receive probation if pleading guilty to the charges.

Srubas-Willis, 1992 graduate of Basehor-Linwood High School, was hired as assistant city clerk in June 2001. She was fired in July 2002.

The city never gave an official reason for her dismissal.

An investigation into missing funds began in September 2002 and concluded in November of that year when police arrested her at her Tonganoxie home.

Before working for the city, Srubas-Willis worked in the accounting departments of several different companies. She has worked for a non-profit organization, an insurance firm and a doctor's office.

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