History Nebraska Audited – Former Head Alleged To Have Diverted COVID Funds

(KFOR NEWS  August 16, 2022)   LINCOLN — The Omaha World Herald is reporting the former head of History Nebraska diverted money intended to help the state agency deal with COVID losses into a private foundation.

According to a state audit conducted by Deputy State Auditor, Craig Kubicek, the legality of actions by Trevor Jones, who resigned as History Nebraska’s executive director and CEO as of July 1 following a controversial tenure, are called into question.

Any state employee who intercepts and diverts funds to which a state agency is legally entitled — especially if he or she can be shown to have benefitted personally from such wrongful action — does so at the risk of violating certain criminal statutes,” the report said.

The report said information collected by the auditor’s staff about the transfer of money was being forwarded to the Nebraska attorney general, Lancaster County attorney, Nebraska State Patrol and Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission for further review.
The independent nonprofit foundation was created in 1942 to support the state agency, formerly called the Nebraska State Historical Society, and Nebraska history generally.

In April 2020, the History Nebraska Board of Trustees asked the foundation for help weathering losses related to pandemic-related closures and disruptions. The foundation responded by offering money from a discretionary account, which was available for “any valid purpose.”  However, instead of turning over the checks to the state treasurer for the benefit of History Nebraska, Jones endorsed them himself and deposited the money into the newly created History Nebraska Foundation, a rival to the older foundation, the audit said.  At the time, the checks accounted for about 90% of the money held by that new foundation.

The History Nebraska board set up the new foundation in early 2020, following months of acrimony between Jones and the older foundation over the use of donated money and the direction of the agency.  The board president said the new foundation would be more responsive to the goals of the history agency and would devote 100% of its money to that effort. The older foundation appoints its own board members and had devoted only 75% of its income to supporting the state agency.
Although the new foundation was a private organization and Jones was a state employee, the audit said Jones “appears to have played an important, if not actually managerial, role in administering the financial affairs of the History Nebraska Foundation for much of 2020 and 2021.”

A subpoena of the new foundation’s bank records showed that Jones had endorsed more than 100 checks deposited into the foundation’s account through October 2021 and was one of only two signatories for the organization’s check payments.

Other concerns raised by the audit:
  •  Whether Jones benefited personally from the foundation. He received one check for $99.60 and a foundation debit card showed $112.20 worth of purchases at bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants that the audit said “may” have benefited him. The audit also questioned charges to Bill.com, an accounts payable, cloud-based platform, that were not itemized.
  • Cases in which mailroom staff were reportedly told not to log or endorse certain checks, as was the normal practice, but to give the money to the chief financial officer. Staffers also were reportedly told not to open mail from certain banks that may contain bank statements.
  • Use of state resources to benefit the new private foundation, including shared logos, joint promotions, shared mailing addresses and having a link to donate to the foundation on the state-run History Nebraska website.
History Nebraska provided a written response to the audit, which was included with the report. In it, the agency said it welcomed and appreciated the auditor’s work and recommendations and said it was looking into the issues raised.
HN desires to work in collaboration with the APA to address all issues included in this letter. To that end, HN has begun an investigation into the factual and legal issues raised. That investigation was not complete as of the date of the issuance of this letter, however, certain issues raised in the letter have already been addressed,” the agency said.
Jill Dolberg, the interim executive director of History Nebraska, referred additional comment to David Levy, president of the board of trustees. Levy did not respond to a message seeking comment Monday.