After the state presented its final witness Thursday in Barton County District Court, defendant LaVeta Miller stepped to the witness stand to testify. Charged with two counts of theft by deception, the Great Bend woman began to explain her work as former director of Central Prairie RC&D and its most prominent program, Central Prairie Honor Flights.
She will continue her testimony this morning.
Defense attorney Robert Anderson asked Miller to explain how she and others were reimbursed when they used their own money for Honor Flights. She gave an example of one volunteer’s request for $16,139, after serving as leader on one of the flights. The necessary receipts were reviewed, the committee approved it, and Miller and board treasurer Stacy Neilson signed a check.
“Large amounts like that were not unusual,” Miller said.
She produced her “personal debit card,” and shared the last four numbers on the card, 2763.
“Did you ever use that to purchase anything for Honor Flights?” Anderson asked.
“Only when I wanted to have a paper trail,” Miller said.
The last four numbers appear on an Office Max receipt, produced earlier in the trial by Barton County Attorney Douglas Mathews. The note “not our card” was added by Neilson during her own investigation of records.
“There are a lot of receipts on there with 2763, not just the Office Max,” Miller said.
Central Prairie RC&D lost federal funding and the staff had to leave the federal office in Great Bend in 2012. That is why Miller requested two years worth of bank statements on the accounts, on April 30, 2012.
“I had a month to get my reporting done (for the Internal Revenue Service) and I had no records,” she said. “We went through the checks and made a file so we could enter them into Quick Books.” That computer software is used by businesses for bookkeeping. Miller said the software did not have a category called “LaVeta Miller,” so she had to assign checks written to her under other categories, such as “reimbursement.”
The reason she didn’t have the records was because of the transition to a private office. It meant moving documents, getting new computers and having people at both locations until the phone number could move to the new site, she recalled.
Dan Curtis was the federal coordinator of the Central Prairie RC&D programs. Asked to describe his attitude toward the Honor Flights program, Miller said, “He was very passionate about all of the projects.” He was also a veteran, she noted.
Eventually, Miller was in charge of Central Prairie RC&D. The Honor Flights continued until 2012. Of the 17 flights organized, Miller said, “I had hands-on involvement with all but the first three.” The 17 flights carried 1,101 veterans to Washington, D.C., with priority given to World War II veterans, as well as 737 “guardians” who assisted them.
When federal funding was cut, Curtis went to work at other federal positions in Kansas. He was still involved with Central Prairie Honor Flights for a time, Miller said. “But then he was asked to step down.”
That was in July of 2011, Miller said, checking her records. “Richard Foster (president of the Central Prairie Honor Flights board) asked him to back off. He got a stand-down letter from the council and from his boss,” she said. “He was to back off and let the new council function.”
Miller also spoke about problems with the new computers after the move. She said she had the board’s blessing to pay Clark Conaway to install Quick Books and fix other problems. She read from the Oct. 13, 2011 minutes, “Transition is going smoothly. Voted to make sure information is not being transmitted out of the building.”
“Do you recall the day Mark Collins showed up at Central Prairie RC&D?” Anderson asked.
She did. Collins said Curtis had sent him to assist with computer problems.
“He stayed until after lunch,” Miller said. Collins had one external hard drive with him and left with two. He added a remote access program “Log Me In,” and suggested she add it to her home computer, but she declined.
Miller said she turned her computer off every day when she left the office.
However, “We’d come in and the computers would be running,” she said. “I had no explanation for that.”
Earlier in the day, the state’s final witness was Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Clint Hawkins, who said the checks Miller deposited into her account were all hand-written. No KBI computer analysis was done.
“We determined we were just going to be looking at the documents and computers were not going to be an issue in this case,” Hawkins said.
The day ended with Anderson asking Miller about her living arrangements after she was arrested. She said she was in a rent-to-own contract for a home in Great Bend and had invested about $15,000, but she lost that when, “My landlady came to me with an eviction notice. Someone said my home was going to be part of the confiscated property.”
Mathews objected to the comment, noting it was “not relevant to the charges,” and it was withdrawn.