Police looking for former ISU employee accused of embezzling over $10,000

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POCATELLO — For the second time in less than one year, a former employee of Idaho State University has been accused of embezzling money from the school.

Betty Lynn Roberts, 57, the former university business officer at ISU’s Research and Innovation in Science and Engineering Complex, or RISE, is on the run from the police after recently being charged with felony misuse of public funds by a public officer or employee.

Authorities allege that Roberts embezzled over $10,000 from ISU over a period spanning more than a year.

“We’ve charged her with misuse of public funds, there is a warrant out for her arrest and we are just waiting for her to get caught,” Bannock County Prosecutor Steve Herzog said.

Roberts’ court case has been sealed by the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office because the investigation is ongoing and because Roberts remains a fugitive from justice.

Herzog said Roberts might have fled to Canada to escape capture.

The RISE Complex was in the news earlier this year when ISU officials claimed there were financial improprieties and conflict of interest issues concerning former RISE Director Dr. Eric Burgett.

ISU officials said they had conducted an audit of the RISE Complex that revealed illegal activity but no one has yet been arrested concerning that situation and Herzog said Roberts’ case is not related to the RISE audit.

ISU has since renamed the RISE as the Eames Advanced Technical Education and Innovations Complex. Instead of being touted as the university’s premier research facility, the massive building is now home to ISU College of Technology programs.

While the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office has not released information concerning Roberts’ alleged illegal activity, ISU recently released a report about her actions.

From November 2015 through July 2016, Roberts rented out a house owned by her father-in-law to officials with the Mississippi-based NuMat Inc., a company that collaborated with Burgett during his research at the RISE Complex. ISU said Roberts was renting out the house to the NuMat officials for $2,500, or twice the amount she was paying her father-in-law to lease the home.

ISU officials said they found a copy of the lease agreement on Roberts’ ISU computer.

In addition to renting the house to NuMat officials, Roberts spent over $10,000 on home furnishings for the house and charged those purchases to an ISU credit card. The furnishings included complete bedroom sets, kitchenware and appliances, a washer and dryer unit, and among other items, a seven-piece LED-illuminated dining room set.

In 2016 when ISU Internal Audit Director Reese Jensen interviewed Roberts about the purchases, she stated they had been bought for use in the RISE Complex mezzanine, specifically for RISE employees to rest when working extremely long hours, according to ISU documents.

However, when Jensen asked to see the mezzanine Roberts said she could not allow him into that section of the building for safety reasons, ISU documents stated.

The safety reason Roberts cited, according to the ISU report, was that flashing red lights were on inside the RISE, specifically near the stairs leading to the mezzanine, which indicated the nuclear accelerators inside the building were in use.

Roberts told Jensen that when the lights were flashing in the facility she did not have the security clearance to allow Jensen to tour the facility, including the mezzanine.

Jensen heard from several RISE employees that Roberts and Dr. Burgett decided to turn on the RISE’s emergency lights because the two knew that Jensen and other ISU officials were going to come over for an inspection, ISU reported. The alleged safety concerns were fabricated so that Jensen and the other ISU officials could not visit the mezzanine and see that the items Roberts had purchased were not there, ISU documents state.

When confronted with this, Roberts denied that the safety concerns were fabricated to keep ISU officials out of the mezzanine.

However, Jensen reported that on Oct. 3, 2016, Roberts drove into the RISE Complex parking lot along with a U-Haul truck driven by an unknown individual.

Multiple boxes of various items, furniture and a washer and dryer unit were unloaded from the U-Haul and dropped off at the RISE complex, ISU reported.

“A member of my staff and I went to the RISE Complex the following day to take inventory of the items that were dropped off the day before,” Jensen wrote. “We identified many of the items” that Roberts had purchased for her father-in-law’s house.

ISU documents also state that sometime in the summer of 2016, Burgett and his family moved into Roberts’ father-in-law’s home, a place RISE employees dubbed the “NuMat house.”

When asked about this, Roberts said she had told Burgett he could not move in but told him he could store some items in the garage.

Roberts then told Jensen she did not know Burgett was living in the home until she found out later, ISU documents state.

ISU turned all of its documents concerning Roberts over to the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office earlier this year and the criminal charge against Roberts was recently filed as a result of Herzog’s review of those documents.

ISU spokesman Stuart Summers said that the university will not be making any further comment about Roberts because the matter is both a personnel and legal issue. ISU officials also would not say when Roberts stopped working at the university.

In addition to investigating Roberts, Jensen conducted the audit of the RISE and released his findings this past July.

Jensen provided two documents that totaled nearly 100 pages about the RISE and outlined Burgett’s alleged conflict of interest with one of the companies the RISE was collaborating with, the Georgia-based ScanTech Sciences Inc.

The report also detailed Burgett’s alleged misuse of university funds and federal grant money and his failure to pay in full ISU students for work related to the ScanTech project at the RISE.

Jensen’s audit was turned over to the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office, who is conducting its own investigation.

If convicted of felony misuse of public funds, Roberts faces a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and 14 years in state prison. The charge carries a one-year minimum prison sentence. Authorities said Roberts would also have to pay restitution of more than $10,000 to ISU.

The other embezzlement case at ISU involved a former financial technician at the university, Tyler Liddle, 29, of Boise. He was charged with felony misuse of public funds by a public officer or employee on Feb. 28.

Liddle used fake invoices and receipts to steal $116,000 from the university over a period of about four years, according to police records.

During an internal audit, ISU officials reviewed student petty cash reimbursement forms, receipts, invoices and correspondence from ISU’s student clubs. They determined that the misappropriation of funds was carried out through a series of fake invoices and payments made to fictitious students, vendors and inactive student groups.

Templates used to create the fake invoices and receipts were found on Liddle’s work computer.

Liddle pleaded guilty to the charge against him, and in October Judge Robert Naftz suspended a 14-year prison sentence for Liddle and instead sentenced him to 14 years of probation and required him to pay over $116,000 in restitution to ISU and serve 150 hours of community service.

This story originally appeared in the Idaho State Journal. It is posted here with permission.

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