Woman who stole from preserve a no-show at sentencing

Excuse from Town of Saukville resident guilty of embezzling from Blue Heron doesn’t fly with judge who sends her to jail
Ozaukee Press staff

The judge, prosecutor and victims were all ready to conclude a case that began nearly two years ago.

The only person missing from the Ozaukee County courtroom last week was Lynette R. Whitford, the woman who in May pleaded no contest and was convicted of  embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Blue Heron Wildlife Sanctuary in the Town of Saukville. 

The 47-year-old Saukville woman, who had been free in lieu of $3,500 bail since being charged in October 2016, was scheduled to be sentenced for her crime on Thursday, Aug. 16.

Lawyer Darcy McManus, who was filling in for Whitford’s attorney Perry Lieuallen, tried to explain Whitford’s absence by giving Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland a letter apparently stating Whitford was receiving medical treatment.

Voiland, who did not want the letter read in court to protect Whitford’s privacy, didn’t buy the excuse.

“I don’t believe this is a justifiable excuse for her not to be here,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Sisley noted that this was the second time representatives of Blue Heron Wildlife Sanctuary had come to court expecting to see justice done. Whitford was originally scheduled to be sentenced in July but that hearing was rescheduled at the request of Lieuallen.

Voiland ordered that a warrant for Whitford’s arrest be issued and she be held in the county jail. 

“She is not helping herself,” Voiland said. “She is giving the court little if any reason to go along in any way with any plea agreement.”

During a hearing Monday, Rachel Boaz, a public defender who was representing Whitford for the purposes of that hearing, asked Voiland to reinstate Whitford’s bail and release her from custody. Instead, Voiland ordered her held in jail until her sentencing on Oct. 4.

On May 29, Whitford pleaded no contest to one count of felony theft, punishable by a maximum five years in prison and five years of extended supervision.

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.

Authorities learned that Blue Heron had a TD Ameritrade investment account, a Port Washington State Bank account and a U.S. Bank credit card account. 

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. Authorities also determined that credit card payments and balances were also not recorded accurately.

A representative of Global Value Investment, the firm Blue Heron paid to manage its investments, told authorities that Whitford had made several requests for money to be transferred from the organization’s investment account to its bank account. 

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, hotels 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.

This was not the first time a Blue Heron official has been accused of embezzling from the organization. In 2007, Cheryl Gaszak, the former president of Blue Heron, was sentenced to seven years in prison for stealing nearly $1 million from the organization and its founder, Sally Stefaniak, between 2002 and 2005.

Stefaniak, who died in 2003, established a foundation to create and maintain the 92-acre preserve along the Milwaukee River off Highway O.


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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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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