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Nebraska Treasurer Admits Misconduct in Check Case

Under a plea bargain, she faces a $1,000 fine. She says she was aiding a child-support account.

November 27, 2003|From Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. — The state treasurer pleaded guilty Wednesday to official misconduct for writing $300,000 in phony checks.

Lorelee Byrd, 47, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count in a deal that will keep her out of jail. James Foster scheduled sentencing for Jan. 29, at which Byrd faces a $1,000 fine.

Byrd had agreed to plead guilty Tuesday after Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning announced that he planned to file 13 charges against her. Bruning said it was unlikely that anyone else would be charged in the three-month investigation.

Byrd was accused of writing the checks Feb. 21 and keeping them in her vault. She voided them June 27, shortly after the Legislature ended its budget-cutting session. It is against state law to knowingly write checks without having a purchase order, contract or bill to be paid.

She denied that she wrote the checks to make it appear as if the money had been spent in a bid to protect her office from legislative budget cuts. Instead, she said the checks were her contingency plan to make sure enough money was available to process child-support payments if the state's new accounting system failed when it went into operation in March.

Byrd said Wednesday that she would consider Gov. Mike Johanns' request for her to step down, saying she would do so if she decided that would be best for her office.

"It's important that I have an opportunity over the next several days to look carefully at what the governor's talking about," Byrd said. "This has happened very quickly."

On Tuesday, Byrd had said she would not resign.

Several state senators said they were considering impeachment proceedings.

Byrd said that by pleading guilty to the one count, she was saving taxpayer money by avoiding a costly trial and possible appeals.

Questions about improprieties in the office were first raised by someone providing an anonymous tip to the state auditor's hotline for reporting government waste, fraud and abuse.

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