Former Franklin County Schools Finance Director Lesley Wade pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to money laundering and filing a materially false tax return in connection with the theft of $1.6 million from the school district.
Lesley Wade is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 17. For the money laundering charge, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. For the tax charge, she faces up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the actual sentence will be in line with federal sentencing guidelines.
Wade worked for the Franklin County Schools for nearly two decades, most recently as finance director before resigning last year when the embezzlement was discovered. In a plea agreement, Wade admitted to writing unauthorized checks to herself, then falsifying the district’s records to hide the thefts.
In all, Wade stole $1,624,593 from the district between February 2011 and June 25, 2019, officials say.
Wade also served as the treasurer of Leestown Gospel Church in Frankfort and had control over the church’s finances with little other oversight, prosecutors said. She said she occasionally used the church’s account to write checks to herself with funds she took from the school district.
Wade also admitted to filing false tax returns from 2011 through 2018, and owes $315,677 in taxes on the funds she stole from the district, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Wade resigned last June, the day after FBI officials contacted Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp about their investigation. Kopp told The State Journal in January that federal agents were contacted by Commonwealth Credit Union about a suspicious check Wade deposited. Kopp said that FBI agents arrived to interview Wade privately that day.
The school district then opened its own investigation and found other fraudulent checks and false invoices from vendors, Kopp said.
Wade had worked for the school district for 19 years and was appointed finance director in 2017.
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. There were invoices and purchase orders to accompany the fraudulent checks as well, he said.
According to prosecutors, Wade could receive up up 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000 for money laundering. She could also be sentenced to a maximum of three years and fined another $250,000 for filing false tax returns.
Wade is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 17.
More to come on this developing story.