Linda Kay Miller, 51, of Alma, Kan., pleaded guilty to three charges of interstate transportation of fraudulently altered securities on Oct. 28. Miller is a former office manager for K-State’s Bio-Security Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall, employed from August 2007 to January 2013.
According to her plea agreement released by the District of Kansas United States Attorney’s Office, Miller pleaded guilty to fraudulently altering three separate checks from outside donors, which were intended for the BRI or BRI employees, and sending them to her own private bank accounts.
The investigation involved the FBI, the Kansas State University Police Department, the Wabaunsee County Sheriff’s Office, as well as U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom and Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway.
The checks she altered, according to her plea, included a check for $5,000 from FSU Research Foundation in Tallahassee, Fla., another for $6,108.58 from the Frontline Healthcare Workers Safety Foundation in Atlanta, Ga., and one for $955 from J.M. O’Connor Inc., in Lenexa, Kan. Miller has also agreed to pay a money judgment of $16,523.58.
Grissom stated in his official press release that Miller’s sentencing is set for Jan. 13, where she faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.
The BRI had very little to comment on how this has affected their operation and research or what plans have been instituted to increase security in the future.
“We have put safeguards in place to protect ourselves in the future, but I cannot go into detail about what those safeguards are,” said Scott Rusk, director of operations for the BRI.
According to Cindy Bontrager, K-State interim vice president for administration and finance, one potential problem that allows situations like Miller’s embezzlement to to go unnoticed is staffing. The BRI, at the time of Miller’s hiring in 2007, had only one employee auditing their expenditures and revenues, but recently has increased their staff.
“We work very hard to make sure we have internal control in our department and it is difficult in our smaller department to keep that control in place,” Bontrager said, regarding the challenges of safeguarding against fraud.
According to Bontrager, K-State’s financial department currently employs only three individuals who actively perform audits on K-State’s expenditures and revenues, which involves nearly $800 million. Bontrager said that the state of Kansas does handle a portion of the auditing after the university staff does, but that more could be done to increase security.
Bontrager suggested a practical solution that would establish a greater set of checks and balances and assist in preventing cases like this from happening again.
“In order to prevent this from happening, one solution could be to centralize the financial process, keeping more internal control, ensuring multiple people handle the auditing process,” Bontrager said.