COLUMBUS — The former Platte County adult pretrial diversion program coordinator accused of mishandling more than $56,000 has filed a motion to suppress her statements made during questioning by local and state authorities after the missing money came to light last summer.
Traci Nelsen, 44, is accused of failing to deposit thousands of dollars in program fees to the county treasurer during a three-year period from 2014-17.
The Monroe woman’s motion in Platte County District Court asks Judge Rachel Daugherty to bar statements at trial she made in the course of questioning because her participation was the “result of unlawful coercion, without benefit of counsel” and violated her constitutional rights.
Daugherty scheduled a hearing on the motion for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 31, five days before Nelsen is set for a jury trial in district court on theft and tampering with evidence felonies. The defense motion also calls for a continuation of the trial date.
Nelsen, who is represented by defense attorney Tom Hockabout of Norfolk, is charged with theft by unlawful taking over $5,000, theft by deception over $5,000 and tampering with evidence.
The defendant's statements were made to her employer, Platte County Attorney Carl Hart, Pamela Bourne, an attorney with the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (NIRMA), Deann Haefnner, assistant deputy state auditor, and Jennifer Cromwell, an investigator with the Nebraska State Auditor’s Office.
According to the auditor’s office report, a total of 425 cases were referred to the pretrial diversion program during a three-year period ending last summer, with fees totaling $26,710 for 246 of those cases not deposited with the county treasurer’s office.
In 50 of the 246 cases, only partial payment records could be located, but court documents show the participants successfully completed the program. In 142 of the cases, no payment records were found, but the participants completed the program.
It is “reasonable” to believe the participants in those cases paid all program fees, which would account for an additional roughly $29,000 in missing funds, according to a summary in the audit report.
Nelsen, who abruptly left her job in late August, is accused of collecting the fees from program participants before diverting more than $56,000 for personal use.
Joseph Smith, who also serves as the Madison County attorney, has been appointed special prosecutor in the case.
The theft charges are Class 2A felonies, each punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment. The tampering with physical evidence charge is a Class IV felony with a penalty of up to two years in prison, 12 months of post-release supervision and a $10,000 fine.
Nelsen was previously convicted of similar criminal charges in 2003 in Kansas.
She voluntarily surrendered her license to practice law in Kansas after being convicted of theft and false reporting, both misdemeanor offenses. When Nelsen was disbarred by the Kansas Supreme Court in June 2003, she was facing a formal complaint filed against her by the state’s disciplinary administrator’s office.