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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

State officials say Bonanza city employee embezzled public funds for the second time in ten years

Officials with the Arkansas Joint Legislature Audit Committee say a review of city records for Bonanza for the period of Jan. 1, 2018, through May 5, 2022, revealed unaccounted-for funds and unauthorized disbursements totaling $216,916.

Members of that committee were critical of Mayor Elmer Nelson, who they say hired his daughter--an already convicted embezzler--to keep the records for the Sebastian County community of 600 people.

Laurie Denham, city of Bonanza's administrative assistant, allegedly embezzled more than $38,000 from the city. Officials say she made out $38,042 in unauthorized disbursements to herself from January 2018 to May 2022.

The disbursements came in the form of 36 extra salary checks for herself, a total of $16,708 and an additional $21,334 to buy gift cards.

The total amount of unaccounted funds was $178,874 and included $173,404 in undeposited water bill payments, as well as $5,470 in undeposited manual receipts from city funds.

Officials say thirty-nine of the gift card transactions were altered on the bank statement for the city in an effort to cover-up the theft.

Similar shortage findings, covering 2012 through 2016, involved unauthorized salary payments by Denham to herself. In 2017 Denham pled guilty to theft by deception and paid restitution in full. After Denham was cited the first time, the City Council unanimously voted to reinstate her into the same position.

Nelson said he was totally unaware of the missing funds and that Denham was already working for the city when he was elected mayor. He allowed her to stay on after he was elected to the office.

Arkansas State Police are investigating, and the case has been turned over to the local prosecutor.

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