Former Franklin Co. Board of Education finance director pleads guilty to $1.6 million theft

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- A former finance director of the Franklin County Board of Education has pleaded guilty to federal charges involving the theft of over $1.6 million from the school system.

Lesley Wade of Frankfort entered the pleas to charges of money laundering and filing a materially false tax return at U.S. District Court in Frankfort, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Wade was a long-time employee of the Franklin County schools, most recently serving as the district’s financial director.

According to the Frankfort State-Journal, Wade resigned in June 2019, the day after FBI officials contacted Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp about their investigation. Kopp told the newspaper this past January that federal agents were contacted by Commonwealth Credit Union about a suspicious check Wade deposited. Kopp said FBI agents arrived to interview Wade that day.

Kopp said the school district's annual audits did not catch the theft because auditors only review a portion of checks and are not looking for fraud. He told the State-Journal there were invoices and purchase orders to accompany the fraudulent checks as well.

In her plea agreement, she admitted that, starting in February 2011 and continuing through about June 25, 2019, she wrote unauthorized checks of school board money to herself and then falsified the necessary district records and invoices to cover up her crimes.

At the time, Wade also served as treasurer of Leestown Gospel Church in Frankfort, where she had control over its financial management. Wade admitted to periodically using her control over the church’s finances to launder money she had stolen from the schools, using the church’s account before writing checks to herself, in an attempt to avoid detection and make the checks appear legitimate.

Her theft of funds, which took place over a term of years, resulted in the FCBOE losing a total of $1,624,593. Further hiding her theft of funds, Wade also admitted that she willfully filed false individual income tax returns for the years 2011-2018 by intentionally failing to report the income from her fraudulent scheme. The total amount of tax loss is $315,677.

Wade is scheduled to be sentenced on September 17. On the money laundering charge, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. For the tax evasion charge, she could receive up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. However, any sentence will be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal sentencing statutes.

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.

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