Ex-city worker accused of stealing $143,000 from Wood River - KMOV.com

Ex-city worker accused of stealing $143,000 from Wood River

Posted: Updated:
By KMOV Web Producer By KMOV Web Producer

   WOOD RIVER, Ill. (AP) -- The alleged theft of nearly $143,000 by a southwestern Illinois city's former assistant finance director eluded yearly audits by outside accounting firms and surfaced only after she made an unrelated bookkeeping gaffe, officials said.

Madison County prosecutors charged Leslie Dona, 41, on Thursday with theft of over $100,000, money laundering and official misconduct involving her work for Wood River, a city of 11,000 northeast of St. Louis. She was jailed Friday on $500,000 bond.

Authorities allege that Dona -- a 17-year city worker -- issued unauthorized checks to herself from city funds and pocketed the money, altering software, destroying records, manipulating funds and generating false reports to hide the transactions.

Police Chief Otis Steward said investigators still were trying to pinpoint whether more money was pilfered from the city's coffers, noting that bank records only have been examined back to 2007's start.

"What we've uncovered is like reading a crime novel," City Manager Jim Schneider said.

Mayor Fred Ufert said Dona's alleged embezzlement surfaced after she scrambled for months to fix an unrelated and inadvertent bookkeeping mistake. Dona last year miscoded a $100,000 electronic transfer, mistakenly sending the money to the Royal Bank of Scotland -- with which Wood River does no business -- instead of to the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund where it was intended.

Wood River officials say the transfer wasn't necessarily Dona's fault, pointing out that the banking institution handling the transfer should have rejected it because it had incorrect account numbers. Instead, the bank added some numbers to it and deposited the money into the Royal Bank of Scotland account of someone from Rhode Island who later promptly withdrew the errant money.

Ufert said Dona noticed her mistake months later but never reported it.

Schneider said that last month, auditing firm CJ Schlosser and Co. uncovered inconsistencies in the city's finances and asked to address them with Dona, but the day of that scheduled Friday meeting Dona called in sick. After that weekend, Dona didn't report for work and went missing.

"We believe she panicked when she took off," Ufert said.

Three days later, Dona surfaced in the St. Louis suburb of Eureka, Mo., after a police officer stopped her for erratic driving. While driving home that day, Dona wrecked her car and was hospitalized. During that time, Schneider said, authorities discovered the transfer error and ultimately "learned that she embezzled the city's money and changed records so no one would find out."

Wood River's city council recently has voted to retain an Alton law firm in its quest to recover the wrongly transferred $100,000.

A message left Friday by The Associated Press at Dona's home was not immediately returned. Court records do not show her as having retained an attorney.

Powered by Frankly