A former North Platte Kids Academy executive director must spend five years on probation and pay $250 a month in restitution toward the $36,000 she embezzled during her 17 months on the job.
Michelle L. Seidler, 44, also must serve the balance of a 90-day jail term in North Platte beginning June 10 under the sentence handed down Monday by Lincoln County District Judge Michael Piccolo.
Seidler, who was fired by the Kids Academy board in January 2018, pleaded no contest March 11 to one of two felony counts of theft by deception, $5,000 or more.
Under a plea agreement, county prosecutors dismissed the second count and a related felony count of criminal impersonation, $5,000 or more.
Both the probation and jail terms are the longest Seidler could receive by law without prison time, Piccolo said. She could have received up to 20 years in prison.
Seidler had “no significant criminal history” before the case, he said, and state law requires him to take that into account. The presentence investigation indicated she was a good candidate for probation, he added.
But Piccolo said Seidler’s actions “specifically affected quite a few people in this community” and put the Kids Academy at risk of closing until its insurance carrier paid off a $35,000 claim the board filed after the embezzlement.
“You breached a high degree of trust and responsibility,” Piccolo told her.
He ordered Seidler to make her $250-per-month restitution payments throughout her five-year probation term. Those payments, which will go to the insurance carrier, would total $15,000 over that time.
Seidler’s sentencing was left to Piccolo after District Judge Richard Birch, who had accepted Seidler’s plea deal, recused himself from further court action due to a conflict of interest revealed by her presentence investigation.
Piccolo handed down his sentence after Seidler publicly apologized “for any of the chaos that was caused” by her actions for the Kids Academy, its leaders and clients and the city of North Platte.
“I just want to make sure they hear I’m very sorry for it,” she said.
A few minutes earlier, Public Defender Robert Lindemeier linked Seidler’s actions to unpaid personal medical bills she faced while director.
“It wasn’t like she was taking money to go on an extravagant trip,” Lindemeier told Piccolo. “I think she would be a good candidate for probation. This is totally out of character for her from what I’ve seen.”
He elaborated on the situation later Monday in an interview with The Telegraph.
“What I understand was she had bills because of health problems, and basically she was taking money to pay those bills off. And obviously, it didn’t work,” he said.
Lindemeier added that he “tried to drag this out a bit” to see if Seidler could find work in Omaha allowing her to make some restitution.
“Now she’s got a job, and she can pay some restitution, which is the important thing,” he said. Seidler is not working in child care, however, Lindemeier added.
John Hales, who led the Kids Academy board’s investigation of its missing funds, said he appreciated the restitution order but “didn’t have my hopes up” that Seidler would be able to repay all the money she took.
“I thought Judge Piccolo addressed all the issues pretty well,” said Hales, who retired from the board May 1 but attended Monday’s sentencing.
But the embezzlement “brought us to our knees,” he added, because “it’s tough to be profitable for any day care.” If Seidler feels remorse, “we as a board never saw any of that — just the opposite, if anything.”
North Platte police have said Seidler, who turned herself in Aug. 23, kept paying a former employee — who was unaware of what her former boss was doing — and collected on $11,000 worth of false claims to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The Kids Academy board, Hales said, “pursued the prosecution from the get-go because we wanted to put an end to her ever doing this again. Hopefully we accomplished that.”
Under Piccolo’s sentencing order, Seidler can spend her five-year probation term under the supervision of Douglas County probation officers. But she must come back to North Platte to finish her jail term, the judge said.
He gave Seidler credit for 47 days served in the Lincoln County Detention Center last fall. She has about a week of her final 90-day sentence to serve, Lindemeier said, after further deductions of time under the state’s “good time” law.