Former Jackson County court administrator used funds for gift cards, massages and spa resort

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Jackson County's former court administrator purchased an estimated $28,000 in gift cards during her last 18 months on the job, according to financial records reviewed by 41 Action News.

The documents, received August 6 after an open-records request, also show court funds used at stores on the Country Club Plaza, massages for "wellness education" and a stay at a luxury spa resort.

Teresa York resigned from her job as court administrator on July 2. The Court placed her on administrative leave in early June after learning of "concerns regarding possible inappropriate expenditures of court funds."

On July 31, the Court released another statement that said an internal investigation had confirmed those concerns and it had turned over information to law enforcement officials.

"The Court depended upon Teresa York for many years to manage Court functions and funds professionally and ethically, and we have been taken aback in the past few weeks to find that our trust was misplaced," said Presiding Judge Charles E. Atwell in the statement.

41 Action News reviewed records that began in late 2010 and continued until York was placed on leave in June.

The most notable consistent expense was thousands of dollars in gift cards, typically purchased from area businesses like CVS, Walgreens and Office Depot. 41 Action News tallied more than 80 separate purchases of gift cards.

Often times, the receipts were marked with handwritten notes like "holiday party" or "court picnic," appearing to indicate they were intended as incentives for employees.

However, York purchased the cards throughout the year and divided the costs into dozens of separate trips. The gift cards covered a wide array of merchants that included iTunes, AMC Theaters, Bed, Bath & Beyond, American Express and Vanilla Visa.

York also approved 11 different massage purchases totaling $1,980 at an Independence business. The invoices are labeled for "wellness education."

Reached by phone, the owner of Monarch Awakening Massage, Angela Henehan, said she provided chair massages inside the Jackson County Courthouse for employees. She made several different visits to the building to as part of a morale-boosting exercise organized by York.

Other purchases include makeup at Macy's, items at Bob Jones Shoes in Midtown, more than $500 in eyewear, and even prescriptions at an area pharmacy.

As York's expenses came under heightened scrutiny in May, one of the invoices displays more than $1,000 spent at the Siena Hotel Spa Casino in Reno, Nev. The bank statement displays a "?" next to the charges. The spa expenses coincided with a business conference taking place in Las Vegas.

"Every judge I know is surprised and upset that something like this would happen involving such a trusted employee," said former presiding Jackson County Judge Jay Daugherty, who worked with York for nearly two decades. "I think we never imagined that she would do anything that was at all inappropriate."

Court officials declined to answer any questions about the expenditures, citing the pending criminal investigation.

"An ongoing review and revision of internal control processes is underway to assure that policies, procedures, and practices are in place which will insure that the Court's resources are properly authorized, directed, monitored, and measured," said a statement released Tuesday.

The Court appointed Jeff Eisenbeis as Interim Court Administrator.

41 Action News tried contacting York at her home, by email, and by phone. York's attorney, Gerald Handley , issued the following statement on Tuesday:

"We are conducting our own review of the factual background of this matter, and neither Ms. York or I will make any additional comments at this time.''

York had worked at the courthouse since 1984 and became court administrator in 2003.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com . You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook.

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