Thursday, June 2, 2011

School bus supervisor guilty of embezzlement in West Virginia


A former Kanawha County school bus supervisor admitted Tuesday to logging fake overtime hours for employees, pocketing the excess cash and often using it pay off balances on a family member's Mary Kay cosmetics account.

Nancy Bowen-Kerr, 58, who headed the Elkview school bus terminal from at least 1998 until her resignation in 2007, pleaded guilty before circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey to a felony embezzlement charge.
In 2007, sheriff's deputies began a criminal probe into several overtime violations reported at Bowen-Kerr's terminal. Police found that the supervisor gave her employees overtime hours they never worked so that they could pay her back for Mary Kay products they purchased from one of her family members.
Bowen-Kerr also skimmed some of the pay gained from the phantom overtime hours. Sometimes, she cut the profits with other employees, Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Rob Schulenberg said.
School officials became aware of the dealings after some employees at the bus terminal complained to school board members, board President Pete Thaw said, adding that at one point he visited the terminal personally and saw hundreds of Mary Kay products stacked at least 6 feet high.
In exchange for Tuesday's plea, prosecutors recommended that Bowen-Kerr serve her sentence on a mix of home confinement and probation, which Thaw decried as a "bargain" and said he hoped for a stiffer penalty.
"You have no idea what a bad example this sets for other employees," Thaw said. "We've tried for years to get something done. If this doesn't merit jail time, then what does?"
An embezzlement conviction generally carries a sentence of one to 10 years, or an alternative sentence of up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Bowen-Kerr also faces almost $60,000 in restitution, but Thaw was not sure if that amount is an accurate reflection of how much she embezzled during her time as a supervisor. Thaw also did not know exactly how long Bowen-Kerr has been employed at the school district, but said she was working there in 1998, when he was elected to the board.
Workers at the Elkview terminal have been complaining to him about her ever since, he said.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants said the reasoning for the recommendation of home confinement for Bowen-Kerr was twofold: It assured a conviction, and it assured that the 58-year-old would be able to stay in the work force and pay off her restitution.
"Ultimately, the judge decides what the punishment will be," Plants said. "We, of course, will make recommendations pursuant to the plea agreements, and we make plea agreements based on the evidence of the case."
Thaw said that though he does not agree with the deal, he's happy that the case has finally moved forward, after being backlogged under a previous prosecuting attorney's administration.
"This will send a message badly needed for a long time," he said. "Half a loaf of bread is better than none if you're hungry."

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