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Teeth whitening, Legos among purchases by juvenile court employee arrested for embezzling more than $100,000


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    WATERLOO, Iowa (The Courier ) — A juvenile court employee has been arrested for allegedly stealing more than $100,000.

Deputies with the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Nicole Sue Foelske, 36, of rural Jesup, on Tuesday for ongoing criminal conduct, first-degree theft and felonious misconduct in office. Her bond was set at $75,000.

Authorities allege Foelske took more than $100,000 while she was employed at First Judicial District’s Juvenile Court Services between July 2018 and October 2019, according to court records.

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The charges stem from an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office and the FBI and were announced as the Iowa State Auditor released a report on the probe into misappropriated funds.

Foelske started as an accountant for Juvenile Court Services in 2012 and then became the contract administrator, which involved handling grants and making purchases for youth programs.

While on the job, Foelske allegedly made a number of unauthorized purchases with Juvenile Court Services funds, including food and beverages and gift cards ranging in value from $100 to $500 each. The gift cards were apparently routed to Foelske’s PayPal account and then to her personal bank account.

Court records allege she bought 438 gift cards with a total value of $86,899 and then put $84,330 into her bank account.

She also used funds to order products through Amazon that were delivered to her home and shop for personal items at local stores, court records state.

The purchases were made using a credit card supplied by SuccessLink, a nonprofit that partnered with JCS for family and mental health services. JCS submitted the credit card bills to Black Hawk County or the Department of Human Services for payment, according to the audit. The card came with a 3% administrative fee collected by SuccessLink.

Authorities became suspicious when Foelske made purchases with the SuccessLink card while she was on leave in September 2019. She was then placed on administrative leave in October 2019 as the investigation began. She resigned in January 2020.

The audit found $123,642.57 of improper and $11,436.36 of unsupported credit card charges and related administrative fees. Of this, $103,000 was spent on gift cards and other personal purchases at Target, $14,000 at Walmart and Sam’s Club and $1,392 at Amazon.

Purchases included groceries, athletic shoes, teeth whitening treatments, cell phone accessories, kitchen utensils, electronics, Legos, Little People advent calendars and other items, the audit states.

Foelske had also apparently made attempts to pay Juvenile Court Services back. In 2017, she wrote a personal check for $370 after she was asked to provide documentation of a credit card purchase that appeared to be personal. District officials didn’t notify the Iowa Judicial Branch or the State Auditor’s Office of the incident, according to the audit.

In April 2020, after officials had launched their investigation and the state declined to pay SuccessLink for $15,500 in suspect outstanding purchases, Foelske paid the amount to SuccessLink, the audit states.

Audit reports show officials with the Iowa Department of Human Rights Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning, which had been providing grants, severed ties with JCS in 2017 after division officials questioned how Foelske filed claims for grant funds.

The audit brought up concerns over the use of SuccessLink. The nonprofit offers fiscal agent services, but it was only contracted for family and mental health services for the Judicial District. Even so, SuccessLink provided credit cards to Foelske and the director and issued checks to vendors on behalf of the Judicial District at Foelske’s request, in effect acting as a payment processor.

Iowa Judicial Branch officials apparently weren’t aware of the relationship with SuccessLink.

The audit states any use of a payment processor should be vetted and approved by the Judicial Branch.

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