The former CEO of the Iowa chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation pleaded guilty last week to charges of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the charity, which provides support to children with critical illnesses and their families, the Associated Press reported.
A charging document alleges that 40-year-old Jennifer Woodley embezzled nearly $41,000 in her role as CEO and president of the organization. Woodley was fired last summer when the organization sought a criminal investigation into the financial irregularities. Since then, Woodley admitted in a written statement to making unauthorized charges on a foundation credit card, giving herself two bonuses and a salary increase, and falsifying entries into Make-A-Wish records regarding the expenses.
Last year, Woodley opened up to the Des Moines Register about her own family’s struggles with critical illness. Both of her daughters have needed brain surgery, and she told the outlet that she hoped her family’s story would inspire people to donate to the organization and others like it.
“What kind of example do you want to set for them instead of feeling bad for yourself?” she told the newspaper in May 2020. “That sounds cliché, but I couldn’t believe it more. You’ve just got to get to the other side of it. And we will, and she will,” she said, referring to her younger daughter. Less than two months later, Woodley lost her job at the organization over the alleged embezzlement after working in her role at the Iowa chapter since August 2019.
It wasn’t long after Woodley took the position that the alleged theft began. “We are working on assessing the full extent of these irregularities and determining next steps,” Joshua Norton, chair of the Make-A-Wish Iowa board of directors told the Des Moines Register when the financial irregularities first came to light last year during an internal compliance review. That’s when Make-A-Wish fired Woodley. She later turned herself in to face charges in January 2021.
She pleaded guilty on three felony charges, which include two counts of first-degree theft and one count of fraudulent practices. Woodley could receive a sentence of five years of probation, fines, and restitution, per the prosecutors’ recommendation. Her sentencing hearing has been set for July 20. Nicholas Sarcone, the attorney representing Woodley, said he will ask for deferred judgment at the hearing, which means the case would be expunged from Woodley’s record as long as she completes the terms of her sentence along with her probation, according to The Guardian.
“We are pleased the Iowa legal system resolved this matter with an agreement that includes restitution,” Make-A-Wish said about Woodley’s plea in a statement to Law & Crime. “As always, we remain committed to ensuring that donations to Make-A-Wish are safeguarded and properly used to advance our vision of granting the wish of every eligible child fighting a critical illness.”
Refinery29 has reached out to Make-A-Wish for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
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