Woman sent to prison for stealing from organization

Judge says she violated trust of board she once served on
Ozaukee Press staff

A former board member of a Town of Saukville wildlife sanctuary who financed a lifestyle beyond her means by embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the organization over a period of years beginning in 2013 was sentenced Monday to four years in prison.

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland also sentenced Lynette R. Whitford, 47, of Saukville, to five years of extended supervision, during which time she must repay the money she stole from Blue Heron Wildlife Sanctuary.

The amount of restitution, however, is in dispute. Whitford’s attorney, Perry Lieuallen, said Whitford has agreed to repay $85,000, but the wildlife sanctuary is seeking more than $205,000.

That issue will likely be settled during a restitution hearing, but for the purposes of sentencing, Voiland said, the amount of money is not as important as the fact Whitford stole from the organization repeatedly over a number of years.

“We’re talking about dozens if not hundreds of transactions over multiple years,” he said. “I do think it matters that this happened on a day in, day out basis for a number of years.”

Voiland also said that the seriousness of Whitford’s crime was exacerbated by the fact she used her position of trust within the organization to steal from it.

“She was given trust, and she breached it,” he said.

District Attorney Adam Gerol called the recommendation of a presentence report that Whitford be sentenced to a year of probation “grotesquely inadequate” and requested she be sentenced to three years in prison followed by five years of extended supervision.

Gerol said it appeared that Whitford felt entitled to the money she stole, dragged her feet when fellow Blue Heron board members asked for an accounting of the organization’s money and made excuses in an attempt to justify her crimes.

But Lieuallen said Whitford is truly sorry for betraying the trust of the organization, with which her family has a long history. In addition to the fact Whitford’s late mother and father served as board members, he said her aunt, the late Sally Stefaniak, was the founder of the organization.

“The only thing she (Whitford) can do now is make amends, and she can do that by paying restitution,” Lieuallen said. 

He said Whitford plans to use $65,000 she expects to inherit from her mother’s estate for restitution and can pay the organization $1,000 a month if she’s not behind bars.

Sobbing, Whitford, who in May pleaded no contest to one count of felony theft, called her actions “terrible and horrendous” and apologized to the organization and her family.

Whitford was arrested on Oct. 25, 2016, and charged a day later after Blue Heron Wildlife Sanctuary officials and authorities determined that $142,000 had been transferred from the group’s investments to its bank account and that unauthorized charges totaling $85,533 were made to Blue Heron’s credit card account to pay for expenses that ranged from pricey vacations and shopping trips to medical and insurance bills, according to the criminal complaint.

An investigation by the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office began Sept. 15, 2016, when Blue Heron President John Kelm reported that the organization’s accountant informed him that tax returns had revealed discrepancies in the group’s financial records.

Kelm told authorities that in addition to being a Blue Heron Wildlife Sanctuary board member, Whitford had helped her mother Barb Bogatzke, who was the organization’s treasurer, manage the group’s accounts before Bogatzke died in March 2015.

Kelm added that Whitford was also paid $20 per hour to do maintenance and groundskeeping work at the preserve and had access to the organization’s credit card to purchase gas and supplies.

After Bogatzke died, Blue Heron officials requested receipts and other financial information from Whitford. It took her more than a year to turn over the information, which according to authorities revealed that records of transfers from the investment account to the bank account were falsely recorded. 

A review of credit card records by Blue Heron officials revealed 200 unapproved  and improper charges were made between November 2015 and July 2016.

The charges include thousands of dollars worth of purchases at stores such as Meijer, Piggly Wiggly, Shopko, GameStop and Target. A single purchase at Dick’s Sporting Goods was for $1,109, while another at Best Buy was for $1,847, according to the criminal complaint.

Travel-related purchases included airline tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals. One purchase listed in the criminal complaint was for three American Airlines tickets for Whitford, her husband and another family member for $1,968. Authorities said  Whitford spent more than $11,000 for a family trip to the 2015 Daytona 500.

Other purchases charged to Blue Heron’s credit card account were made at various salons, Victoria’s Secret, a liquor store, Fanatics NASCAR and Packers Pro Shop. Accounting services were also charged to the credit card.

When confronted by authorities, Whitford admitted to using Blue Heron’s credit card improperly and transferring money from its investments to pay for the charges, the complaint states.

Whitford said she expected her inheritance from her mother’s estate would more than cover the amount of money she charged on the organization’s credit card.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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