Former Make-A-Wish executive pleads guilty to embezzling thousands of dollars spent on personal expenses and unauthorized bonuses

DES MOINES, Iowa – The former CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa has pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the charity that supports sick children and their families.

Jennifer Woodley admitted in a written guilty plea last week that she made unauthorized charges on a foundation credit card, gave herself a bonus and unapproved salary increases, and made false entries in the foundation’s files related to these expenses.

Woodley, 40, pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree theft and one count of fraudulent practices, all felonies. Under a plea deal, prosecutors will recommend a five-year probation sentence, along with fines and restitution.

A prosecution document alleges Woodley’s embezzlement totaled nearly $ 41,000, but restitution has yet to be set.

Two months after becoming the group’s chief executive officer, Woodley secretly awarded herself a $ 10,000 bonus in October 2019 that had not been approved by her board of directors, according to criminal complaints unsealed in January.

The bonus, which Woodley added to a list of legitimate bonuses earned by other employees, cost the organization a total of $ 15,540, police said.

Woodley also made 84 unauthorized purchases on an organization’s credit card for his personal use, totaling more than $ 23,000 over a 10-month period, according to the complaints. Woodley would not have reimbursed the group for these expenses.

Judge Scott Beattie accepted guilty pleas on Tuesday and set a sentencing hearing for July 20.

Woodley’s attorney Nicholas Sarcone has said he will seek a deferred judgment upon sentencing. If granted, it means the case will be removed from his record, as long as Woodley completes his probation and the other parts of his sentence.

Based in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, the Iowa group is one of 60 chapters of Make-A-Wish America, which provides support and memorable experiences to children with serious illnesses and their families.

The theft began shortly after Woodley became chairman and chief executive of the group in 2019 and continued until the group discovered financial irregularities during an internal compliance review last summer. It was then that the organization fired Woodley and called for a criminal investigation.

Woodley surrendered to face charges in January and was released on bail. Prison records indicated his new address was Winston Salem, North Carolina.

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