Grand Jury to Consider Multi-Million Dollar Theft from NKY Convention & Visitors Bureau
The woman accused of stealing roughly $3.8 million from the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau waived her case to the Kenton County Grand Jury on Tuesday.
Bridget Johnson, 58, is still jailed on $500,000 bond.
She was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday but opted to go right to the grand jury which will consider the charges against her. Johnson was arrested on Nov. 16 on charges of theft by unlawful taking of more than $1 million, unlawful access to a computer, and abuse of the public trust of more than $100,000.
Johnson worked for the bureau, also known as meetNKY, for 20 years before she was fired in early October.
NKY Convention & Visitors Bureau president & CEO Eric Summe said that the agency, which works to attract conventions and tourists to the region, continues to work with Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders, local and national law enforcement agencies as the prosecution of Johnson goes on.
"Despite having numerous internal accounting controls in place, Johnson, over the past eighteen months, allegedly evaded established procedures and set up an unauthorized electronic payment process that allowed her to create and pay bogus invoices, and then hid this activity from organizational leadership, our board of commissioners, and third-party auditors, according to investigators," Summe said in a statement.
From May 2017 to September 2018, it is alleged that Johnson sent checks online to several people who Johnson claimed were vendors for NKYCVB. According to the investigation, the checks were sent to real people, but these people were never vendors to NKYCVB and never provided any payment for the service they received.
In all, the amount allegedly embezzled by Johnson is $3,840,500 or more, Johnson's arrest citation said.
Johnson then allegedly deleted the fraudulent transactions on the bureau's monthly bank statement from BB&T that she would present to the board of directors.
The activities allegedly took place on a bureau computer.
Summe said that investigators suggested that more arrests could be made, but that no other bureau staff members are believed to have known about or been implicated in the alleged criminal activity.
"As has been previously reported in the news media, the losses incurred by the CVB are considerable and we are firmly focused on restoring public trust in our organization while continuing our important mission of attracting conventions, meetings, and visitors to our region," Summe said. "This includes preparing for the upcoming Council of State Governments Conference, which is expected to attract 800 to 1,000 of the highest-ranked state-government leaders from around the nation to our region on Dec. 6-9."
The Kenton County Grand Jury has sixty days to take up Johnson's case and to decide whether to indict her.
In the meantime, Summe said the bureau is focused on reviewing all processes and has put in place additional controls and safeguards to prevent such criminal activity in the future.
"This is, without a doubt, the greatest challenge the CVB has faced in our 44-year history," Summe said. "Yet, rest assured, our board of commissioners along with our dedicated staff remain committed to, making the necessary changes to our financial policies and oversight systems, working diligently with law enforcement, and above all, continuing to promote our region as a great destination."
Editor's note: While the CVB and the Northern Kentucky Convention Center are intertwined due to their similar missions of attracting and hosting visitors, conventions, trade shows and group tours to Northern Kentucky, the two organizations operate independent of one another and have separate budgets, boards of directors, administrative leadership, staff and locations.
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Bridget Johnson (via Kenton Co. Detention Center)