Former Georgia State Fair director testifies in embezzlement trial

awomack@macon.comJuly 16, 2014 

Betsy Jo Yates testified Wednesday that she hated to see her employer of two years, the Georgia State Fair, leave town.

Her daughter celebrated a birthday there one year. She has fond memories of attending even when she wasn’t an employee.

“I love this fair and what we stood for,” she said.

Yates, who is accused of embezzling $34,637 from the fair between 2008 and 2010, denies taking money to which she wasn’t entitled.

In fact, she said she contacted an Atlanta lawyer after being placed on administrative leave in 2010 in an effort to recover commissions she alleges she’s still owed. Her employment contract was never renewed.

“I’m still owed quite a bit,” she said.

The Superior Court trial began Monday for Yates, 43, who is charged with theft.

Irregularities discovered in an audit led to an investigation by the Bibb County District Attorney’s Office.

Yates was arrested Dec. 6, 2011, and was released the same day on a $125,000 bond, according to Bibb County jail records.

Auditor Kenneth Neil testified Wednesday that a number of checks were printed out as payable to Yates.

He said the nonprofit organization’s computerized general ledger showed payees for some checks had been changed from Yates’ name to the name of various businesses and individuals.

Checks were flagged because of changes made in the digital ledger and a lack of receipts, Neil said.

Gary Schwab, a former federal financial crimes investigator and current investigator for the district attorney’s office, told jurors he traced the checks written to Yates that were flagged in the audit. All except one were deposited into her personal bank accounts. She received cash from some of the deposits, Schwab said.

One check was cashed and wasn’t deposited, he said.

Yates, the fair’s former director, spent much of her testimony describing to jurors how she scraped to get donations and worked with fair board members in hopes of improving the annual event.

She spent about an hour answering questions posed by her lawyer about 53 checks flagged as “questionable” during the audit.

While Yates said she couldn’t explain the circumstances surrounding each check, she said she wrote many of the checks to herself and then deposited them into her personal bank accounts so she could pay fair-related expenses in cash.

She said some small businesses wouldn’t accept the fair’s checks or preferred to be paid in cash.

Although the nonprofit organization had a stash of petty cash, Yates said she was instructed by board members not to use the petty cash, but instead to write checks and cash them to pay bills that had to be paid in cash. Other bills were paid with checks.

When questioned by the prosecution, Yates said she sometimes made ATM withdrawals from her personal bank accounts and used her personal accounts to make fair-related purchases.

She said she wrote IOUs and put them into the petty cash bag where they stayed until she was reimbursed.

“I realize it looks kind of strange in hindsight,” Yates said.

The checks flagged by the audit were labeled in the fair’s computerized accounting system based on who was paid in cash or the donation used to pay for an item, she said.

Numerous times she said she couldn’t provide information about checks because she didn’t have access to her work calendar or computer.

Alleged duplicate payroll checks identified in the audit were payments for overtime, she said.

Some of the checks were to pay Yates a commission for donations she secured for the fair, Yates testified.

She said the checks were approved by members of the fair’s board of directors.

Yates was hired in 2008 and was placed on administrative leave July 8, 2010.

The fair left Macon in 2013 and moved to the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton after experiencing declining revenues and less-than-hoped-for attendance.

Testimony is scheduled to continue Thursday in Bibb County Superior Court.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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