A former business manager for the Western Arizona Vocational Education District No. 50 has been sentenced to prison for embezzlement. Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced May 28 that Deborah Long (aka Deborah Keller) was sentenced by the Mohave County Superior Court to serve 4.5 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections followed by seven years of supervised probation. The Court also forfeited Long's interest in her state retirement.
Under a plea agreement, Long was convicted of stealing money while working as a business manager for Western Arizona Vocational Educational District No. 50 (WAVE), a joint technological education district in Mohave and La Paz Counties.
Long faced five counts of theft, and was also charged with fraudulent schemes and artifices and public money custodial violation.
The case was investigated by the Auditor General’s office and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Mary Harriss.
As a business manager for WAVE, Long was responsible for receiving payments, managing accounts receivable, processing payroll, and reconciling credit card statements. The Attorney General’s office said that, between Nov. 14, 2011, and Aug. 17, 2018, Long used her access to steal $139,284 from WAVE.
According to the Attorney General’s office, Long stole the funds through an unauthorized salary increase, paying herself for fraudulent travel expenses, issuing checks directly to herself, adding her name to checks intended for legitimate vendors, paying her personal credit card bills, misdirecting checks payable to WAVE, and stealing donations, tuition, and other expenses paid by students or community members. Long evaded detection by falsifying the accounting software and not recording receipts.
Long was indicted Nov. 3, 2018. A plea agreement was reached April 4, 2019.
In addition to serving time in prison and probation, Long was ordered to repay WAVE $139,284.02 in restitution and an additional $31,326 for WAVE's costs related to the investigation.
Local school officials in Parker said they were glad to see justice was done.
“Obviously, that was taxpayer money,” Parker School Superintendent Jim Lotts said. “She was placed in a position of trust, and she violated that trust. When you embezzle money like that, you’re impacting kids’ education.”
Lotts said WAVE will likely be looking at their policies and procedures.
“We do the best we can to keep our employees accountable,” he said. “We have redundancies built into the system so no one person is in charge of the funds.”
Parker School Board President Randy Hartless said he was “super shocked” by Long’s case. He said he was on the WAVE board that initially hired her. He said this was some years ago, and he is no longer on the WAVE board.
“I’m glad to see justice was done,” Hartless said of the case. “The WAVE is important to the Parker schools.”
WAVE stands for Western Arizona Vocational Education, while JTED stands for Joint Technical Education District. The JTED was formed by Mohave and La Paz County voters in 2008, and it currently has six partner high schools across the two counties.
The district is involved mostly in promoting vocational and technical education in the two counties. As an example, WAVE will be providing approximately two-thirds of the estimated $800,000 cost of remodeling Parker High’s auto shop.
The current WAVE-JTED members include the Kingman Unified, Colorado River Union, Lake Havasu Unified, and Parker Unified School Districts. Their current property tax rate is $0.05 of $100 of net assessed value. WAVE is headquartered in Kingman.