The headquarters of History Nebraska (formerly called the Nebraska State Historical Society) is just north of downtown Lincoln. The agency changed its name to History Nebraska in 2018. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers waded into the fight over whether a former director at History Nebraska could legally accept money from a private foundation he did not control and give it to a foundation he helped steer.
The state’s top prosecutor believes the agency head broke the law by doing so. His office charged Trevor M. Jones on Friday with felony theft by deception, a crime that carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Questions about foundation’s money
The State Auditor’s Office said Jones obtained $270,000 in June 2020 from the privately funded Nebraska State Historical Foundation by telling them he needed the funds to stabilize the state agency’s finances during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The auditor has said he deposited the money, for future use, into a different private foundation he helped lead — the History Nebraska Foundation. He and others have said the newer foundation offered them more influence over its investments, largely through the appointment process.
The auditor’s report questioned whether the private funds Jones solicited for a specific purpose could be used as Jones allegedly did. It asked the Attorney General’s Office to review whether his actions could represent a crime. The Nebraska Examiner first confirmed the Attorney General’s investigation in June 2022.
Prosecutors allege Jones deceived the older foundation by creating or reinforcing “a false impression” about the law, money or its use, preventing someone from correctly judging a transaction or failing to correct the impression. Investigators allege that Jones altered two checks from the foundation originally written or stamped for deposit into the state treasury.
No comment from Jones or foundation board
Jones did not immediately return calls seeking comment. He and his defenders have argued he was a change agent at the state agency tasked with preserving and sharing Nebraska’s history. They have acknowledged he ruffled some feathers.
The charges against Jones listed a Lincoln address as his last known residence. He previously said he planned to move to France after leaving the state agency.
Board members of the older foundation that provided Jones the money have argued that he should never have taken the money from one foundation to the other without their permission.
Several had criticized his leadership of History Nebraska, including the priority he placed on digitizing historical records over the user experience of accessing those records in person and accessing the state museum site in Lincoln.
At one point, the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation discussed cutting the percentage of funds it devotes to History Nebraska, which was at about 75%. On Tuesday, several foundation board members did not return calls seeking comment. Two who did declined to comment.
In December, the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges against Jones. County Attorney Pat Condon said state law did not fit well into how the funds were switched from one fund to another.
“The charge is based upon evidence reflected in the State Auditor’s report and additional evidence obtained during a review of the case by the Attorney General’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol, including new evidence that came to light after the decision made by the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office,” said Suzanne Gage, a Hilgers spokeswoman.
Hilgers’ office did not specify which information was new.
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