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Former court administrator used funds to buy $25,000 in gift cards

Jackson County’s former court administrator used her court-supplied credit cards to purchase more than $25,000 in gift cards in the last 18 months of her service.

Teresa York’s credit cards statements also show charges for spa visits and purchases at a women’s clothing store and an area optical shop. She also approved eight consecutive months of invoices for “wellness education/massages” totaling $1,980, according to the records obtained Monday by The Kansas City Star.

The more than 500 pages of credit card and other spending records cover late 2010 until June, when York was placed on leave from her job as the top administrator in Jackson County courts. She resigned July 2 after judges announced they had concerns “regarding the expenditure of court funds.”

Jackson County court officials said that they first became aware of those concerns in late May.

Last week, court officials said they had hired “independent outside professionals, including a forensic accountant,” to investigate the situation and, based on the results of that investigation, turned over the matter to law enforcement. York has not been charged with any crimes in connection with the expenditures.

Attorney Gerald Handley, who is representing York, said that his client would have no comment on the matter and that he still is studying the records.

“We’re evaluating the situation and seeing what we can do to understand the intricacies of the issues,” Handley said.

Court officials said Monday that “legal and ethical reasons” barred them from discussing the specifics of York’s spending.

“Although the internal investigation regarding the misuse of funds is essentially completed, the court continues its efforts to revise and strengthen internal controls, policies and procedures,” read a court statement released late Monday.

York typically made the gift card purchases at pharmacies or office supply stores throughout the metropolitan area. Notations on the released records indicate that in some cases the cards were intended to be used as incentives or bonuses for court employees around the holidays or as gifts at court picnics.

However, York regularly purchased gift cards in every month but one in the period covered by the records. And rather than purchasing gift cards at a single location before the event, York scattered her purchases among several stores and at different times.

In a single week in November 2011, she purchased more than $3,200 worth of cards spread across four visits to a pharmacy and office supply stores. On May 20, 2011, York purchased almost $600 in gift cards at office supply stores in Lee’s Summit and Overland Park.

The records also revealed that York spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on meals at area restaurants. Notations on the records indicate that at least some of the meals were for business meetings.

The records disclosed smaller purchases at a women’s clothing store, a shoe store in the Crossroads area and a $574.40 purchase, annotated later as “TY personal,” at a local optical shop.

In the same month that judges said York came under suspicion, she charged $1,088.69 to a court credit card for two spa visits at a Reno, Nev., casino while attending a professional conference.

York also purchased thousands of dollars of computer and other electronic equipment at the Apple store on the Country Club Plaza, though later notations indicated that at least some of the equipment was distributed to the court’s judges.

While the court, like most large institutions, has postage meters, York routinely charged purchases at a Raytown post office about a mile and a half from her home.

Under purchasing procedures, York had wide authority in approving contracts and spending. In a statement last week, Presiding Judge Charles Atwell said he and others on the bench were disappointed with York’s performance in that area.

“The court depended upon Teresa York for many years to manage court functions and funds professionally and ethically, and we have been taken aback in the past few weeks ,” Atwell said in a written statement.

York had worked at the courthouse since 1984 and became court administrator in 2003.

As administrator, she supervised all of the non-judicial functions of the court, including human resources, records-keeping and information systems. The court has about 800 employees.

The records obtained by The Star Monday also show expenditures for office supplies, court-related seminars and conferences and hundreds of dollars for motivational books.

Jeff Eisenbeis has been appointed as interim court administrator and is reviewing and strengthening internal management controls “to insure that public funds are appropriately protected in the future,” according to a court statement issued last week.