Dead Woman Accused of Stealing Scholarship Funds

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Lawyers for a scholarship foundation say a dead woman stole $55,000 in scholarship donations years ago, and are asking that her estate be opened to pay back the missing funds.

Linda Halford — a banker and treasurer for the foundation for 20 years — died in a 2005 traffic accident at age 55. But in a civil lawsuit in Douglas County, the Pioneer Fund Foundation accuses her of stealing the donations over several years and putting the money into personal bank accounts.

"Why does all of this have to happen after she's deceased?" said her widower, Larry Halford. "Linda has been gone now for three years. I don't know where this will all end up. If they prove it, then it's a whole different deal."

Larry Halford said he doesn't know whether his wife stole the money because she handled the family finances.

American National Bank in Omaha is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, accused of unauthorized conversion of funds and negligence in its oversight of Halford.

Jim Burns, a securities officer for the bank, declined to comment. The banks lawyers have yet to respond to the lawsuit and a court date has not been set.

Jeri Welchert, president of the Pioneer Fund Foundation, said the foundation's board discovered inconsistencies in bookkeeping about a month after Halford died, finding that she had opened several unofficial accounts for the foundation at the bank.

The Pioneer Fund Foundation is a private foundation that raises funds for Fort Calhoun Community Schools.

"When we started, everything was different. This was a very small fund," Welchert said. "We had $100 scholarships, and then it grew over time to this $100,000 endowment.

"Linda was in banking for over 25 years, she was very trusted, and she always brought us detailed financial reports. Yeah, we were taken," she said.

Sheriff's authorities in Washington County said criminal charges were not possible because Halford was dead. But they say that given the evidence they found after her death, they likely would have charged her.

"This was a very hard case to investigate because, in a small town like Fort Calhoun, everybody knows everybody," Sheriff Mike Robinson said. "We were all shocked here just as well, but she was the only one who took care of any of the money in the school account."

Court records showed that Halford did not have a criminal history.

As an employee of Fort Calhoun State Bank in 1999, she was accused of depositing $30,000 into an in-law's bank account. But the allegations were never proven and the bank dropped the case.