Joplin Police Detective Honored for Child Pornography Investigation; FBI, IRS Agents Honored for Karen Pletz Fraud Investigation
KANSAS CITY, MO—David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a detective with the Joplin Police Department, along with two federal law enforcement agents, received the Guardian of Justice Award yesterday during the 10th Annual LECC Training Seminar in Springfield, Missouri.
The annual Guardian of Justice Award recognizes a state or local officer as well as a federal agent for investigative excellence, selfless collaboration, tireless trial support, commendable diligence and professionalism, and noteworthy assistance to prosecution. The prestigious law enforcement award is presented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office each year during the law enforcement training conference.
FBI Special Agent John Timmerberg and Agent Kyli Harmon, IRS-Criminal Investigation, are the federal recipients of the Guardian of Justice Award. This is based on their work investigating the alleged criminal activities of Karen Pletz, a prominent civic leader in Kansas City and former president and CEO of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCUMB). As a result of their investigation, Pletz was indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling from KCUMB. The alleged fraud scheme included more than $2.5 million in unauthorized compensation payments and reimbursements from the university for personal expenses and fraudulent charitable contributions. The 24-count indictment also charged Pletz with tax violations and money laundering.
Detective Chip Root of the Joplin Police Department is the local recipient of the Guardian of Justice Award. Root, a member of the Southwest Missouri Cybercrimes Task Force, was involved in a child pornography investigation that resulted in a federal indictment and conviction. Richard Scofield was sentenced in September 2011 to the statutory maximum of 10 years in federal prison without parole after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. Scofield, who also was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to one of his victims, will be on supervised release for the rest of his life following incarceration.
Scofield was initially brought to Root’s attention through a number of AOL cybertips containing reports that Scofield was engaging in online chats in which he claimed to have engaged in sexual acts with children. When Root began digging into Scofield’s background, he learned that Scofield had been accused of committing sexual assaults against multiple children that had never been prosecuted.
Root took up the investigation and was able to seize a computer Scofield had been using. While the initial forensic scan failed to locate any contraband images, it was ultimately determined that a handful of images containing child pornography were contained in the unallocated space of the hard drive. Root conducted a lengthy interview of Scofield and was able to obtain statements that helped to establish his guilt. Root went on to interview all the other members of Scofield’s household who had access to the computer to eliminate them as suspects. Additionally, the detective obtained recordings of Scofield’s phone calls placed while he was in the Jasper County Jail and had approximately 1,000 pages of conversations transcribed. Due to Root’s tireless efforts, Scofield pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.
Even though Scofield had pleaded guilty, Root continued his investigation into the old accusations of sexual assault made against Scofield. Root uncovered a number of individuals who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Scofield. The victims of these assaults were invariably young children or mentally challenged to some extent. Without Root’s extraordinary efforts in this investigation, it is highly likely that Scofield would have continued to sexually assault the weakest members of our society.
While many of Root’s other investigations had more notoriety or have secured longer sentences, this case exemplifies everything the Southwest Missouri Cybercrimes Task Force stands for.
John Timmerberg and Kyli Harmon
Timmerberg and Harmon worked early on to identify assets and obtained seizure warrants for Pletz’s bank account and Lexus convertible. Because Pletz died before a conviction could be obtained, these seizures resulted in the only forfeiture of assets in the case. Timmerberg and Harmon interviewed scores of individuals, many of whom were prominent business and civic leaders in Kansas City, and many others who lived out of town. They obtained hundreds of thousands of documents, using and summarizing those documents to demonstrate the multiple fraud schemes.
Their strong investigation led to a 24-count indictment against Pletz in March 2011, just a year after they began, which was very quick for such an extensive and complex fraud. Had they not coordinated so well, nor worked so many evenings and weekends, an indictment in just one year would not have been possible. Once Pletz was indicted, however, they did not rest. They kept the pressure on by organizing and producing over 600,000 pages of discovery to the defense and continuing to interview Pletz’s colleagues, friends, and family and by beginning their trial preparation months in advance of the trial setting of March 2012.
The federal indictment alleges that Pletz wrongfully obtained $1,409,500 from KCUMB in unauthorized additional pay for herself from October 2002 to December 2009. Pletz allegedly caused minutes of KCUMB Executive Committee meetings to be created when the meetings did not actually occur. Minutes for nine meetings were allegedly created, at which the only business ever reported was to purportedly authorize payments to Pletz, usually in the form of $65,000 lump sum payments.
The federal indictment alleges that Pletz submitted numerous fraudulent vouchers to receive more than $1 million in reimbursements from KCUMB. These vouchers allegedly claimed business purposes for expenditures, when in reality the expenditures were for her personal travel and entertainment. The indictment alleges that Pletz received reimbursements for personal travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to visit her parents; to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to visit a friend; and to Charleston, South Carolina, to visit high school friends; and an $11,846 reimbursement for items purchased at a Vera Wang boutique in Honolulu, Hawaii. Pletz allegedly did not declare the income she received from KCUMB as a result of these reimbursements on her federal income tax returns. According to the indictment, Pletz received a total of $1,074,917 in unreported income from disallowed travel and entertainment claims, which led to a tax loss to the United States of at least $280,000.
The federal indictment alleges that Pletz signed and filed tax returns for 2003 through 2006 in which she falsely claimed itemized deductions for charitable contributions that she did not make. In reality, the indictment says, KCUMB—not Pletz—actually made the contributions. According to the indictment, Pletz claimed $565,628 worth of fraudulent charitable deductions. Among those fraudulent charitable contributions, the indictment says, was $65,000 in contributions to Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kan. Pletz allegedly received reimbursements from KCUMB for those contributions over a three-year period but failed to report the $65,000 as income.
The indictment charges Pletz with four counts of money laundering. On four separate occasions, Pletz allegedly transferred funds obtained by theft from her bank account to American Express or, on one occasion, to an individual for the purchase of antiques.
This news release, as well as additional information about the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is available online at http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/index.html.