WOODLAND — Entrusted with a company credit card, Leona Jull made hundreds of purchases during her tenure as executive director of Fourth & Hope, a nonprofit agency that provides food, shelter and other services to the homeless population.
But some of those purchases — among them pricey vehicle repairs, living-room furniture and satellite TV service — have landed Jull in a Yolo County courtroom, where she’s standing trial this week on allegations that she used Fourth & Hope’s coffers to cover more than $32,000 in unauthorized personal expenditures.
Of that, more than $25,000 was spent at gas stations and restaurants, authorities say.
“While people in the community were donating money to the poor, she was putting it in her pocket,” Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McHugh told jurors during her opening statement Tuesday, referring to public contributions that fund Fourth & Hope’s programs along with government grants.
McHugh said Jull repeatedly failed to submit receipts to support her expenditures and ignored requests from the agency’s board members to establish a credit-card spending policy.
Defense attorney Robbin Coker, however, described her client as so dedicated to Fourth & Hope (formerly known as the Yolo Wayfarer Center) that she “ate, slept and breathed that organization,” and while she may have exercised poor judgment on occasion — including repeatedly handing co-workers her credit card to fill work vehicles’ gas tanks — she never intended to deprive the people the agency serves.
“Was she perfect? No. Did she steal from this organization? No, and I think that’s what the evidence will show,” Coker said during her opening remarks in Yolo Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg’s courtroom.
Jull, a 47-year-old Arbuckle resident who served eight years as Fourth & Hope’s executive director, has pleaded not guilty to a single grand theft charge, which alleges losses of at least $950.
She was arrested last August, five months after she left the Woodland-based agency amid allegations of spending discrepancies first raised by the agency’s bookkeeper, Sherrin Buras.
As the trial’s first witness, Buras testified Tuesday that she initially noticed in 2012 what appeared to be personal expenses on Jull’s Visa statements, such as recreational equipment, a traffic fine and a sofa set that police later found in Jull’s Arbuckle living room. She said Jull also used Fourth & Hope checks to pay for $1,800 worth of repairs and tires for her personal vehicle.
Buras said she brought the suspicious activity to the attention of Fourth & Hope’s CEO, but “nothing, to my understanding, happened.” She did not approach the board of directors because “I felt that if I said something that I would lose my job.”
Under cross-examination by Coker, Buras said she had no independent knowledge of whether Jull had entertained board members or potential Fourth & Hope donors at any of the restaurants, and she acknowledged that Jull occasionally used her personal vehicle for agency business, even though she had access to company cars.
And while others Fourth & Hope employees who had company credit cards were generally reliable about submitting receipts, “nobody was 100 percent perfect all the time,” Buras said.
Indeed, Jull’s arrest exposed an apparent lack of executive oversight that plagued Fourth & Hope at the time. During a courtroom discussion that took place outside the jury’s presence Tuesday morning, prosecutor McHugh noted that no one took on the role of authorizing Jull’s spending practices.
Despite the presence of a board of directors, “it was really left to Ms. Jull to authorize things,” McHugh told Rosenberg while arguing whether certain budget documents should be presented to the jury. “The board of directors didn’t have much oversight (over Jull), which in hindsight was a mistake.”
Last fall, Yolo County Housing entered into an agreement to provide executive services to Fourth & Hope for at least 18 months, which YCH officials said would include a review of all the nonprofit agency’s policies and procedures.
Jull’s trial, expected to last about a week, continues Wednesday in Rosenberg’s courtroom.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene