SPRINGFIELD, MO (STL.News) – The former director and the former bookkeeper of the Vernon County Ambulance District have been sentenced in federal court for embezzling more than $270,000 from the district.
Tina L. Werner, 53, and James D. McKenzie, 54, both of Nevada, Mo., were sentenced on Friday, July 26, by U.S. District Judge Roseann Ketchmark. Werner was sentenced to three years and 10 months in federal prison without parole. McKenzie was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Werner and McKenzie to pay $260,000 in restitution to the ambulance district, for which they are jointly and severally liable.
In January 2019, Werner pleaded guilty to wire fraud and McKenzie pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony. McKenzie and Werner embezzled a total of $270,902 from the ambulance district from January 2013 to October 2015.
Although Werner pleaded guilty to only one count of wire fraud as a part of her plea agreement, according to court records, she committed numerous fraudulent transactions over a period of nearly three years. McKenzie willingly turned a blind eye to and concealed the actions of Werner, his employee with whom he was engaged in an adulterous relationship. The ambulance district suffered substantially as a result, to the point of having a lien filed against it for $213,158 for unpaid payroll taxes and taking out two substantial loans after the discovery of the fraud just to maintain its daily caretaking operations and pay outstanding debts.
McKenzie and Werner were employed with the ambulance district until October 2015, McKenzie as the director and Werner as a bookkeeper. McKenzie’s duties as director included managing the daily operations of the district, including the personnel and financial management of the district. McKenzie began his employment with the ambulance district in 1987. Werner’s duties as bookkeeper included managing payroll, conducting financial transactions and managing the accounts receivable. Werner began her employment in 2000.
Werner, utilizing her position as bookkeeper, began electronically transferring money from the ambulance district’s bank accounts into personal bank accounts held by herself and McKenzie in January 2013. Additionally, Werner initiated electronic bill payments from ambulance district bank accounts to pay the personal credit cards held by herself and McKenzie. Werner and McKenzie did not have authorization to conduct such payments and their actions caused the ambulance district to suffer financial loss.
Additionally, from January 2013 until October 2015, Werner and McKenzie issued payments from an ambulance district credit card account for the purpose of paying McKenzie’s personal utility bills and those of a McKenzie family member, resulting in the ambulance district suffering additional financial loss. Werner and McKenzie did not have authorization to conduct such payments.
Werner also falsified electronic payroll records and recorded additional overtime hours worked for herself and McKenzie. As a result, the ambulance district issued electronic payments to Werner and McKenzie for overtime hours that were not actually worked, resulting in the district falsely overpaying Werner and McKenzie, thereby suffering additional financial loss.
The ambulance district office provided opportunities for its employees to save money for the Christmas shopping season and to donate money for an annual toy drive. In addition to stealing money from the district’s operating account and utilizing district credit cards for personal benefit, Werner also embezzled over $95,000 from the employee Christmas account and over $111,000 from the charity toy drive account.
Werner attempted to conceal the embezzlement by entering a false deposit of $130,000 in a QuickBooks application, and by obtaining a $20,000 line of credit from OnDeck without the knowledge or authorization of the ambulance district’s board of directors. McKenzie and Werner destroyed financial and business documents belonging to the ambulance district while they were in the district’s office on Oct. 23, 2015, in an effort to conceal their embezzlement.