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Former Juvenile Court Employee Arrested On Allegations Of $130K In Improper, Unsupported Purchases

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A former employee of the juvenile justice system in northeast Iowa has been arrested after a state investigation identified more than $130,000 in improper and unsupported credit card purchases.

A former employee of the juvenile court system in northeast Iowa has been arrested and is facing criminal charges for allegedly racking up more than $130,000 in improper and unsupported credit card charges.

During her time at the First Judicial District’s Juvenile Court Services, Nicole Foelske allegedly used department credit cards to pay for thousands of dollars in unauthorized personal purchases, including teeth whitening supplies, basketball shoes and an Advent calendar, as well as groceries, school supplies and electronics. Foelske also bought hundreds of gift cards, which she routed through her PayPal account and then transferred to her personal bank account.

That’s according to findings published in a report released Tuesday by State Auditor Rob Sand. The special investigation requested by Judicial Branch officials identified a total of $123,642.57 in improper charges and $11,436.36 in unsupported charges and fees.

Foelske worked as an accountant and contract administrator for JCS from May 2012 until she resigned in January 2020, when court officials notified her she may face disciplinary action following an investigation in which she admitted to using an office credit card for personal purchases on Amazon.

According to the report, a local non-profit organization that contracted with the district, SuccessLink, provided the credit cards, which were intended to be used to “purchase items necessary for juveniles served by the District," with the state reimbursing the organization.

While the report identified improper purchases dating back to 2017, Foelske’s activity wasn’t identified until October 2019, when district officials discovered she had charged personal expenses to the SuccessLink credit while she was on paid leave.

The criminal charges filed against Foelske include first degree theft, felonious misconduct in office and ongoing criminal conduct.

According to Sand’s report, improper charges for personal purchases by Foelske include:

  • $103,073.20 at Target, $102,402.00 of which was for gift cards and related fees
  • $14,474.22 at Walmart and Sam’s Club, $12,893.02 of which was for gift cards and related fees
  • $1,392.85 from Amazon
  • $1,101.06 from other vendors

Some of the gift cards were routed to Foelske’s PayPal the same day they were purchased, according to the report.

“438 gift cards purchased at Target and Walmart matched deposits to Ms. Foelske’s PayPal account by the gift cards’ denomination and purchase/deposit dates. While some of the gift cards were purchased in the days or weeks prior to a deposit date, others were purchased the same day they were deposited to Ms. Foelske’s PayPal account,” the report reads in part.

“In addition, Sand reported PayPal records document the amounts deposited were frequently transferred from PayPal to Ms. Foelske’s personal bank account the same day or within a short time after the deposit,” the report continues.

Sand’s report also identified more than $11,000 worth of gift cards that were intended to be used as incentives for juveniles or provided to families to help cover the costs of attending meetings and appointments.

It’s not clear if the gift cards were ultimately used for personal purposes or official operations “[b]ecause sufficient documentation was not available for distribution of these gift cards and sufficient controls were not in place to safeguard the gift cards."

Beyond detailing the alleged improper spending by Foelske, the report by Sand’s office also lists a slate of recommendations for the Iowa Judicial Branch and district officials, outlining internal controls and administrative reviews, including segregating of duties; ensuring all credit card charges are properly documented, reviewed and approved; and establishing adequate oversight by district officials.

As of Tuesday evening, court records did not show an attorney for Foelske. Her next court appearance is slated for March 12.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter