The jury in the trial of LaVeta D. Miller will begin deliberations when it reconvenes at 8:45 a.m. on Monday.
Friday afternoon at the conclusion of all testimony and with all pieces of evidence submitted, Barton County District Judge Ron Svaty read juror instructions. Then the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney were each given 30 minutes to make their closing statements. Two alternate jurors were chosen from the 14, and the 12 were told at 5:30 p.m. they could begin deliberations.
However, the members agreed not to continue into the evening.
Miller is charged with two counts of theft by deception in amounts greater than $25,000 and less than $100,000. Miller is the former director of Central Prairie RC&D, which oversaw Central Prairie Honor Flight. Central Prairie RC&D is no longer open, and Central Prairie Honor Flight lost its National Honor Flight status. A new program, Kansas Honor Flight, based in Hutchinson, has since replaced it.
The state alleges that money earmarked for veterans to be flown on Honor Flights to Washington, D.C., was stolen from Central Prairie RC&D bank accounts between March 1, 2009, and June 30, 2011, and from July 1, 2011, to July 31, 2012.
In his closing statement, Barton County Attorney Douglas Matthews asked the jurors to look at the checks from the organization’s bank accounts and the register kept for Central Prairie Honor Flight, “and decide if LaVeta Miller misrepresented information to Central Prairie RC&D.”
Miller saw an opportunity and acted, he said.
“You will notice that the defendant did not start small,” he said.
Checks that board members thought they were approving for legitimate claims to other individuals or vendors, as shown in their records, were deposited in Miller’s own account, according to bank records, Matthews continued.
Miller also paid money she was not authorized to spend to her daughter, Lisa Wyatt, and to Clark Conaway, who worked on the computers, Matthews said.
Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Clint Hawkins and Great Bend Police Officer (now Detective) Scott Bieberle investigated. Hawkins followed the money, and so should the jury, Matthews said. “Who gained? She’s right behind me,” he said, indicating Miller.
In his closing, Defense Attorney Anderson said the investigators, like the board members, jumped to the wrong conclusion. They did not do a thorough investigation.
“While the right to a fair trial is guaranteed, the right to a fair investigation is not,” he said. “While not a case of police misconduct, this is a clear case of police non-conduct.”
A verdict of not guilty will send a message to law enforcement: “Do your jobs,” Anderson suggested. A verdict of guilty could send a chilling message to volunteers, that they should never spend money out of their own pockets and expect reimbursement.
Miller received numerous reimbursements for expenses, the defense suggested, but so did others. Mike VanCampen, another volunteer, now in charge of Kansas Honor Flight, once spent $16,500 and was reimbursed.
Board treasurer Stacy Neilson testified that her signature was forged on 29 checks, but the KBI’s handwriting expert did not take the opportunity to look at that. Instead, the expert confirmed that the signatures of LaVeta Miller were authentic. However, Miller herself confirmed she had signed the checks, which were for her salary or for expense reimbursements, Anderson said.
The board records, which do not match the bank records, were not created to deceive anyone, he continued. Instead, Miller recreated lost vouchers and receipts so she could complete the 990 form and file it with the Internal Revenue Service.
“Miss Miller never denied that she recreated documents,” he said. However, “no one submitted recreated vouchers for reimbursement.” Anderson said the jurors should ask themselves if anyone had even established that fraud or theft had occurred. “If we had the 990s (which could not be produced during the trial) I submit not one dime of any money was missing in this case.”
Anderson also pointed out computer issues, including Mark Collins reportedly installing a “remote access” program on Miller’s computer, which Conaway later removed.
“This is not a red herring,” he said. “It all happened.”
Matthews was allowed the final word, and assured the jury a thorough investigation was done. Bieberle and Hawkins “looked at everything,” he said. They also saw records Collins had in Topeka, but they were not relevant to the case, he said.
“Who stood to benefit? Who gained?” Matthews asked the jury. “One individual had her thumb on everything.”