Former State Fair official pleads not guilty to theft charges
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Former Nebraska State Fair Finance Director Patrick Kopke has pleaded not guilty to felony theft.
Kopke, who at one point told the board of directors that the fair was going bankrupt, is charged with three counts of Felony Theft by Unlawful Taking. Specifically he is accused of stealing what the charges describe as “movable property” from the State Fair on three separate occasions in 2019. The dates listed were Feb. 7-8, July 12 and Sept. 3.
Kopke Monday entered a written not guilty plea in Hall County District Court in Grand Island. A judge scheduled a hearing for Kopke in January and a trial in February.
If convicted on the felony theft charges, Kopke could get up to 60 years in prison.
The charges Kopke faces do not reference other questionable financial transactions tied to him.
In July, the Nebraska State Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) released a report to the State Fair Board which also pointed out two checks totaling almost $150,000 which were paid to a private business owned by Kopke.
During its four month investigation, the State Auditor accessed Kopke’s personal records and those of a corporation he set up named RKBB Enterprises.
In the letter to the fair board, the auditor said that RKBB received one check written in July 2019 for $97,783.64 and another written in September 2019 for $51,631.96. The APA said RKBB used the money to buy a pick-up truck, an ATV, and a trailer and for a processing fee related to the purchase of farm land in Howard County. The ATV and trailer were sold in 2020 after Kopke had resigned his State Fair position in late 2019.The APA also said the pick-up had been sold or traded.
The APA also noted $54,812.29 in payments to CITI from the RKBB account.
In the letter, the auditor wrote in part, “In particular, the APA could identify no benefit received by the State Fair, in goods or services, for the $149,415.60 paid, through the two checks at issue, to RKBB, a business created by Mr. Kopke during his tenure as Finance Officer of the State Fair.
Kopke resigned in November 2019, after warning that the State Fair would go bankrupt within a year.
The audit also questioned credit card transactions made by Kopke between November 2018 and November 2019 totaling $46,665.48.
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