Former History Nebraska director’s fund shifting case now headed to district court

Trevor Jones’ lawyer says he had legal discretion to shift funds

By: - November 17, 2023 3:10 pm
History Nebraska

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 — The former director of History Nebraska will stand trial on a felony theft charge after a judge ruled Friday that prosecutors presented enough evidence to move forward.

Trevor Jones
Former History Nebraska Director Trevor Jones, left, arrives Thursday for his preliminary hearing over a felony left charge with the lawyer, John Ball of Lincoln. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Lancaster County Judge Tim Phillips said the Attorney General’s Office cleared the legal standard of probable cause in alleging that Trevor Jones committed a crime.

“It’s a very low threshold,” Phillips said. “I believe the state has met that.”

Authorities say Jones requested $270,000 in discretionary funds from the private Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation in 2020 to offset pandemic-related losses at his state agency.

Prosecutors, with help from the State Auditor’s Office, say they found no evidence the funds were used as intended or deposited with the State Treasurer’s Office, as legally required.

Foundation fight

Instead, they allege Jones funneled the money to a new group he helped create, the History Nebraska Foundation. They say Jones wanted it to replace the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

The state says Jones signed two checks to the competing foundation, one for $269,926 and another for $325. The $325 check had been stamped to pay to the State Treasurer.

The stamp was crossed out, signed by Jones and later deposited into the account of the History Nebraska Foundation, the audit explained. Jones was a board member of that newer group.

At a preliminary hearing in October, a deputy state auditor testified that the money was meant for the state, not the foundation. Had it been requested for the new foundation, it could have been transferred.

Jones denies breaking law

Jones, 51, denies wrongdoing. During a two-hour hearing last month, his lawyer said Nebraska law allowed Jones to spend discretionary funds given to the agency however he chose.

A student walks by the headquarters building of History Nebraska in Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Jones appeared Friday by video conference and said he understood he now faces a Dec. 13 arraignment in Lancaster County District Court on the felony theft charge involving more than $5,000.

That charge carries a possible criminal sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Last month, the History Nebraska Foundation entered a settlement to repay the $270,000 to the state.

Auditor tip

The Nebraska Examiner first reported on the 2022 state audit questioning the fund swap’s legality. The Attorney General’s Office charged Jones after the Lancaster County Attorney punted.

The auditor and Nebraska State Patrol started looking into the funds after receiving tips during a period of friction between Jones and the State Historical Society Foundation. 

Leaders on the board of the older foundation, established in 1942, had disagreed with how Jones was using some of the privately raised funds.

Jones requested last month’s hearing, forcing the state to show its evidence. Many defendants do so to negotiate a better plea deal. Some do so to get flimsy cases tossed. 

He remains free on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.