COLUMBUS – A Platte County District Court judge has ruled the incriminating statements made to local and state authorities last summer by a fired county adult diversion program coordinator regarding missing funds will be admissible at trial.
Judge Rachel Daugherty’s 18-page ruling found that former coordinator Traci Nelsen’s right to counsel prior to her arrest was not violated and that a subsequent interview with law enforcement authorities did not elicit statements that were “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The Monroe woman’s defense motion to bar her statements at trial was put on hold nearly two months ago.
The judge’s ruling will be among the issues discussed at a status hearing Wednesday on the three felonies Nelsen is facing in district court. A new trial date, originally set for the first week in February, has not been scheduled.
Daugherty wrote in her ruling that during an interview with state auditors Nelsen made no request for counsel and was not in custody.
In a later statement to the Nebraska State Patrol, the judge wrote, Nelsen was in custody, however, she was “advised” of her Miranda rights and “no promises or inducements” were made to the former program coordinator to get her to make the statements.
Nelsen, 44, is accused of failing to deposit more than $56,000 in program fees to the county treasurer during a three-year period from 2014-17.
Nelsen is charged with theft-unlawful taking over $5,000, theft by deception over $5,000 and tampering with evidence.
During the county’s routine annual audit last summer, Nebraska State Auditor’s Office officials had concerns about Nelsen’s process for collecting program service fees from individuals whose cases had been referred to the adult pretrial diversion program.
Nelsen’s statements were made to her employer, 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, investigator with the Nebraska State Auditor’s Office.
According to the auditor’s report, an overall 425 cases were referred to the pretrial diversion program in the three-year period ending last summer, with fees totaling $26,710 for 246 of those cases not deposited with the treasurer’s office.
The area woman is accused of collecting the fees from program participants, but diverting more than $56,000 in county funds to her personal use.
Nelsen abruptly left her job Aug. 24.
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.