KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A former Jackson County court administrator will spend two years in prison and pay almost $140,000 in restitution for stealing from taxpayers and spending the money on travel, shopping and gift cards.
Teresa York learned her fate inside the federal courthouse on Wednesday, a punishment doled out by U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs.
“The public has been victimized and that deserves a significant punishment,” Sachs said. “It’s absolutely necessary that a message be sent that public servants can’t expect leniency.”
A 41 Action News investigation first uncovered York’s paper trail of questionable purchases in 2012. She later pleaded guilty to embezzling the taxpayer funds in November 2013.
Inside the courtroom, Jackson County Presiding Judge Marco Roldan talked about how York’s actions threw the county courthouse into chaos. An internal audit of finances ensued, while the FBI asked questions.
Roldan said the broken trust gave the entire court system a “black eye,” especially during an economic climate when budget were extremely tight.
“It was very difficult. There was a lot of disbelief that it happened,” said Roldan, who was a classmate with York at UMKC. “The public needs to know anytime a public official has misconduct, it’s important to see that justice is done.”
York’s attorney requested a sentence of probation, saying the long-time public employee had lost her career, her law license, and suffered public embarrassment. He also cited a gambling addiction in court documents reported by 41 Action News in June.
But Judge Sachs didn’t buy that argument.
He also held York responsible for a $68,000 “sweetheart contract” to her Florida boyfriend for consulting work. There was no evidence any work had ever be completed, despite court payments made.
Before the sentencing decision, an emotional York said she had no explanation for her actions.
“I lost my way. A confused state of mind took hold of me,” she said. “I hope I have the strength to figure out how to be a better person and go forward in life in the most meaningful way possible.”
York will turn herself in to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on August 25.
York had worked at the Jackson County Courthouse since 1984 and became court administrator in 2003.
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.