CEDAR CITY — Felony charges were filed this week against the former director of the Iron County Children’s Justice Center, accusing her of falsifying mileage reimbursements.

Iron County Children’s Justice Center building at 545 S. 225 East, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 11, 2022 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

According to charging documents filed in Iron County’s 5th District Court on Tuesday, Stephanie Ann Ward-Furnival, 52, faces two counts, both of which are third-degree felonies: one count of theft by deception (value between $1,500 and $4,999) and one count of misusing public money.

According to the probable cause affidavit accompanying the charges, Ward-Furnival was allegedly reimbursed by Iron County for more than two dozen mileage claims submitted for work-related meetings in 2020 and 2021 that were either held virtually or that she did not attend.

The charging documents allege that the fraudulent mileage submissions included 11 round trips to Kane County, 10 to Beaver County and five to Garfield County. The affidavit states that the total mileage claimed was 4,964 miles, for which Ward-Furnival was reimbursed at 55 cents per mile, or $2,730.20.

Due to a potential conflict of interest, the case was filed by St. George Assistant City Attorney Matthew Miller, acting as a special deputy prosecutor on behalf of Iron County.

Trajan Evans, deputy prosecutor and spokesperson for Iron County Attorney’s Office, explained the situation as follows:

Iron County has requested an independent prosecutor from another jurisdiction to review the investigation due to a conflict of interest. This is common practice when such conflicts arise. Any decision that was made to file charges, was done separately from the Iron County Attorney’s Office. That independent prosecutor will be the prosecutor in this case until the matter is resolved.

Ward-Furnival, who has alternatively been known as Stephanie Furnival and as Stephanie Ward, directed the Iron County Children’s Justice Center for more than 20 years until she was fired on Aug. 10, 2022.

Current ICCJC director Wendy Jessen was subsequently hired as Ward-Furnival’s successor, taking the helm starting on Oct. 16, 2022.

Sign in front of Iron County Children’s Justice Center building, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 18, 2022 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Just over one year later, during the Nov. 13, 2023 regular meeting of the Iron County Commission, Jessen informed the commissioners of multiple budgetary issues that had come to light several months earlier.

“In February of 2023 we started noticing some things in invoices from our contracted therapists that did not align with what I understood about what VOCA covers,” Jessen said during the meeting, referring to the state-administered Victims of Crime Act. “So I started asking some questions to my grant analyst and discovered that things weren’t being done properly.”

An audit was subsequently conducted by the Utah Office for Victims of Crime, upon which it was determined that Iron County needed to pay back more than $350,000 to the state.

“Obviously, not a position we want to be in,” Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson told the commission during the same meeting. “But we’ve corrected the problem. It’s just going to hurt early next year when we have to pay back this money that was misused.”

The commission subsequently voted 3-0 to approve the repayment of $358,895 in VOCA funds and unallowable costs in contract services from July 1, 2020 through December 31, 2022, to be paid “as soon as possible in the 2024 budget cycle.”

Stock image of Fifth District Courthouse, Cedar City, Utah, June 8, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Although a number of other alleged improprieties were mentioned during that Nov. 13 meeting (a summary of which can be read in the official minutes), Ward-Furnival has not yet been charged with any other crimes other than the above mentioned counts associated with the mileage reimbursement claims.

A summons was issued on Friday ordering Ward-Furnival to appear in court next month to answer to the charges, with the hearing being scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 20 before 5th District Court Judge Ann Marie McIff Allen in Cedar City.

According to the Utah Office of the State Auditor, Ward-Furnival, listed as Stephanie Furnival, was paid $58,749.08 in wages plus $36,527.42 in benefits in 2021, her last full year as ICCJC Director, for a total compensation of $95,276.50.

In February of 2023, several months after she was fired, Ward-Furnvial filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Iron County seeking reinstatement to her former position, payment of lost wages and benefits, plus damages and attorneys fees. That case is pending, with its next hearing scheduled for Feb. 29 before 5th District Judge Eric R. Gentry.

This report is based on statements from court documents and public officials and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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