The former treasurer of Central Prairie Honor Flights spent nearly four hours on the witness stand Tuesday, reviewing dozens of checks — including some deposited into the personal checking account of LaVeta Miller.
Testimony started Monday in Barton County District Court, where Miller is on trial for two counts of theft by deception over $25,000 but less than $100,000. Charges were filed in 2012 after about $110,000 was found missing from accounts earmarked for Central Prairie Honor Flights, the nonprofit organization that provided World War II veterans with free trips to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial.
Central Prairie Honor Flights was a project Central Prairie RC&D, and Miller was in charge of both in an office based in Great Bend. Central Prairie RC&D served eight central Kansas counties by creating projects to improve the quality of life, but it became the main Kansas hub for the National Honor Flight Program. Volunteers raised the money for the veterans’ expenses — about $650 per veteran, according to other testimony.
Stacy R. Neilson had served as the Central Kansas Honor Flights board president and was treasurer in 2012 when she went to Farmers State Bank in Great Bend to check on an unexpected overdraft. Miller was out of town so Neilson went to her office to get the books, but Miller had taken them with her.
The board met no more than once a month, so Miller would sometimes inform members of upcoming bills and they would approve those checks before the invoices came in, Neilson said.
“We always relied on her to tell us what was going on day to day,” Neilson said. “She had her hand on all of it.” Still, everything looked OK until she met with bank employee Lindsay Schartz on July 31, 2012. There she found that some checks that went to venders, in her books, had actually been endorsed by Miller and deposited into Miller’s personal account at American State Bank. Neilson and Lindsay started going through checks that morning, and continued into the afternoon.
Neilson said she also noticed that her signature of different on some checks. She pointed out those checks, saying, “that is not my signature.”
There were also checks with payees the board had not approved, Neilson said. Checks were paid to Miller’s daughter, Lisa Wyatt, or “Wyatt Agency,” but Neilson said the board had told Miller they couldn’t afford to hire Wyatt. Other checks were written to Clark Conaway for computer services, but Neilson said the board had authorized Miller to pay him no more than $200. She was to find out what was wrong with the computer and let the board know how much it would cost to fix it.
Some checks were for Miller’s salary, paid every two weeks. On these, Neilson said the amount was correct, “but my signature is incorrect.”
“I don’t believe that is my signature,” said of various checks. “I don’t sign it that way.”
A check to “AMC Charters” on the books was endorsed by LaVeta Miller, according to bank copies. “I don’t know why our statements should be any different from the bank’s. They should be identical,” Neilson said.
Sometimes a bill was paid with the organization’s debit card, but then there would also be checks written. Some items, such as one for $1,568, would simply say “supplies” in the records, but there was no receipt. There was a check to one vender for caps, which were given to the veterans, for $1,924. The vendor had received three checks altogether, but the board’s records showed four checks were written. The bank records showed the fourth check actually went to Miller.
Checks the board approved for Office Products Inc. were paid to Miller, Neilson said.
There was an invoice for a purchase at Office Max in Hutchinson, for $1,460.80. It included $299 for a projector, but Neilson said the board had already paid for the equipment described.
A manager from Office Max also testified, pointing out items in the store invoice that had a different font than the business uses. The projector on the invoice was an item they did not carry at the time, he said.
The Kansas Department of Corrections print shop in Hutchinson created memory books for the veterans. A witness from that office who sends invoices testified, “It was a big order,” done in six segments. The print shop was never paid, she said. An invoice in the organization’s records “didn’t match ours.”
Greeley County Sheriff Mark Rine testified that in 2009 he was involved in organizing an Honor Flight trip for several Tribune veterans. Eventually, World War II veterans were identified and over $70,000 was raised and sent to Great Bend. He said 92 vets flew to Washington in April of 2011, and there was $10,000 left. They were asking when another trip could be arranged.
“Eventually, we were told there was no money available for another flight,” he said.
Rine was shown an email by defense attorney Robert Anderson, but he denied sending it. “That has my name at the top but I don’t recognize this particular email,” he said. It also had an electronic signature that was not his, he said. He was identified as the Sheriff from Tribune, but he would say Greeley County Sheriff. However, when representing Honor Flights, he wouldn’t use his title as sheriff at all.
Prosecuting Attorney Douglas Matthews objected to further questioning about the email during cross examination, saying it was beyond the scope of Rine’s testimony. Anderson ended up serving subpoenas to some of the state’s witnesses, including Rine, Schartz and Neilson, who will testify for the defense on Thursday.
In the morning, there was also testimony from Detective Scott Bieberle from the Great Bend Police Department, who investigated the case, and from a Kansas Bureau of Investigation document examiner, who confirmed certain signatures were Miller’s.
“The defense stipulates that’s her handwriting,” Anderson said. “How much time did you spend on the handwriting?” The examiner said the work had taken weeks, which Anderson said could have been solved by asking Miller. “Should they at least ask the person?”
Anderson also asked Bieberle if he and KBI Agent Clint Hawkins, who investigated with him, questioned Miller prior to getting a search warrant for her home.
“You made no effort to talk to Miss Miller?
“No, we did not.”
The day ended without time for Anderson to cross examine Neilson, except for one question:
“Miss Miller told you she paid for these things with her (own) debit card, is that correct?”
The cross examination will resume around 9 a.m. today.