MCT: Former head of Great Bend Honor Flight arrested




The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — The former head of a Great Bend program that took World War II veterans to see memorials in Washington, D.C., was arrested Thursday on suspicion of theft by deception in excess of $100,000.

LaVeta Miller, who oversaw the Great Bend hub for the national Honor Flight program, was arrested at her Great Bend home on a warrant issued by the Barton County attorney, Great Bend police and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said.

Miller worked as program director for Central Prairie Honor Flight, which raised nearly $1.2 million and conducted 17 Honor Flights that took 1,100 WWII veterans to Washington from 2008 through 2011.

Central Prairie Resource Conservation and Development district, a nonprofit that had Honor Flights as one of its projects, reported the alleged theft to Great Bend police on Aug. 1. The theft allegedly occurred over a two-year period.

Miller was fired July 1 by the Central Prairie RC&D, said Stacy Neilson, treasurer for the group. Neilson said Miller began helping administer the Honor Flight program for Central Prairie RC&D in April 2009. Miller became program manager in April 2011.

Two Honor Flights were canceled in 2012. Miller told The Eagle for a story published in June that the flights were called off because the group didn't have any money.

"Funding has always been a concern," Miller said at the time.

After being unable to get information about financial records from Miller, Neilson said she compared the Central Prairie RC&D's account statement with the bank's statement on July 31 and found there were two different amounts. More than $110,000 was missing, she said.

About 65 to 70 percent of that came from the Central Prairie Honor Flight account and the rest from the Central Prairie RC&D, Neilson said.

"I really feel bad about the situation," Neilson said.

The Central Prairie group was booted out of the national organization in late April for a number of reasons, including poor record keeping.

Hutchinson-based Kansas Honor Flight began operating May 1 and was recognized by the national organization. It has conducted three flights this year and has plans for more in 2013.

Mike VanCampen, president of Kansas Honor Flight, said there is no connection between his group and Central Prairie Honor Flight.

"We do our own fundraising," he said. "We've received no money from Central Prairie.

"Our mission still needs to occur."

Richard Foster, president of the Central Prairie RC&D board, said, "With the money taken, we could have flown two more charter flights."

The RC&D has had to close its office in Great Bend because of the lost funds, Foster said, although he said the group will continue to operate its other programs through the Internet.

"We'll have to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and go forward," he said.

Honor Flight is a grassroots organization based in Springfield, Ohio. It has sent more than 81,000 WWII vets to Washington since 2005. The expense of sending a veteran, about $650 in the case of Kansas Honor Flight, is paid for by each hub.

In addition to Kansas Honor Flight, there are several student-edition hubs across Kansas that are run by school districts.

Miller is being held in the Barton County Jail in lieu of a $20,000 bond.

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