Ex-manager of Flathead irrigation board sentenced to one year in prison for embezzlement

MISSOULA, MT  — The former executive manager of a Flathead area irrigation board was sentenced to prison on Tuesday after she admitted stealing from the organization to buy personal items like a calving pen, a guitar and tires, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said today.

Johanna Estella Clark, 44, formerly of Kalispell and currently of Florence, pleaded guilty on Aug. 11 to wire fraud.

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U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy presided and sentenced Clark to one year and one day in prison and to three years of supervised released. Judge Molloy also ordered Clark to pay $265,131 in restitution.

The prosecution said in court documents in the case that Clark worked for the Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC) from 2013 until May 2017. During those years FJBC was a government-owed and operated organization that represented about 2,400 irrigators in the Flathead, Mission and Jocko valleys. The board had 12 elected members and one full-time employee. Clark was the only full-time employee when she started in 2013 and eventually became the executive manager. Clark had the authority to make financial decisions for FJBC and had control of multiple FJBC bank cards and signature stamps for all of the board members, which she could use to issue checks.

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In August 2014, Clark began making personal charges on FJBC credit cards and continued the activity until shortly before her termination in May 2017. Purchases included furniture, a calving pen, a guitar and accessories and tires for a personal vehicle.

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Clark attempted to mislead investigators about her fraud by drafting a memorandum with signatures of certain FJBC board members that appeared to authorize her to charge personal expenses to FJBC’s bank cards. Investigators determined that Clark likely used the board members’ signature stamps to sign the memo, and the board members either denied or could not recall giving her permission to use board funds for personal expenses.

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