State auditor alleges fraud in payments from southeast Nebraska development district to food truck operation

By: - September 18, 2023 11:17 am

The state auditor is alleging that the former director of Five Rivers Resource Conservation & Development Inc., committed fraud in directing nearly $220,000 of payments to a food truck run by her husband. Pictured are Facebook posts made by the director. (Screenshot of audit report)

LINCOLN — State Auditor Mike Foley is asking for a criminal investigation into the transfer of nearly $220,000 from a southeast Nebraska development agency to a food truck run by the husband of the agency’s director.

In a report Monday, the auditor’s office detailed 200 credit card and check payments made to Arley’s food truck from December 2015 through November 2022 while Bobbie Meints was serving as executive director of Five Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Inc.  

Food truck run by director’s husband

The food truck, based in Steinauer, was operated by Meints’ husband.

Foley said he could find no services provided to Five Rivers to justify the payments, nor how the payments fit with the mission of the nonprofit, which focused on improving the economy and cultural opportunities in southeast Nebraska.

The RC&D was formed in 1993 to benefit Otoe, Nemaha, Richardson, Johnson, Pawnee, Gage, Jefferson and Saline Counties, and was funded primarily via state environmental and agricultural grants.

Mike Foley
State Auditor Mike Foley (Courtesy of the Nebraska State Auditor’s Office)

Foley called the payments “outrageous” and has asked the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office and local prosectors to conduct a criminal investigation.

‘Egregious’ abuse

“It’s such an egregious abuse of the public trust,” he said.

Foley also questioned whether members of the Five Rivers board of directors had exercised proper oversight of spending by its executive director.

Email and phone messages sent to Meints and Arley’s were not immediately returned on Monday morning.

The Five Rivers RC&D was dissolved in July, according to the audit. A bank statement showed the agency had no money at the end of 2022.

One of the primary sources of funding for the agency was the Nebraska Environmental Trust, which had approved more than $182,000 in grants to Five Rivers from 2020-22.

The Trust, however, began raising questions about Five Rivers’ operations after approving more than $600,000 in additional grants in April 2022 for a grasslands project, and for collections of hazardous household wastes and electronics.

‘Sloppy’ recordkeeping

Among the questions posed by the Trust in a monitoring audit in June 2022 were why Five Rivers’ nonprofit status had been administratively dissolved by the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office and why an older (2017) IRS nonprofit tax form had been included in its 2022 grant application.

Eventually, the Environmental Trust declined to reimburse Five Rivers for the grants.

The State Auditor’s Office called the recordkeeping and accounting done by Five Rivers “extremely sloppy and disheveled.”

As a result, the agency was charged thousands of dollars of credit card fees, interest payments and bank overdraft charges during the period examined, according to the audit.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.