Since our KELOLAND News investigation into LifeScape first uncovered cases of alleged abuse, embezzlement and the deaths of two people with developmental disabilities—which prompted the South Dakota Department of Human Services, put LifeScape on probation–KELOLAND News has been following the criminal cases of former employees through court.
Monday, the woman who stole money from the people she was supposed to be caring for as a LifeScape Community Support Supervisor plead guilty.
When KELOLAND News first broke the story on our investigation into problems at LifeScape, Angela Kennecke discovered there was a warrant out for Jodi Aulner’s arrest for embezzling money from three LifeScape clients, whose families trusted her to take care of their finances. After a LifeScape internal investigation, Aulner admitted to detectives that she took the money between April through June of 2015.
After our story aired, Aulner, who now works at Avera Behavioral Health, turned herself in.
Monday she plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of petty theft.
This is the first time our cameras caught up with Jodi Aulner in court. When I asked her if she was indeed Jodi she told me “no.’ I asked her again as she entered the courtroom:
AK: You’re not Jodi Aulner?
“Nope,” Aulner said.
Even though she denied it, she is the Jodi Aulner who admitted before a judge that she took money from three LifeScape clients who lived in this group home under her care on West 43rd Street.
She wrote out checks for a few hundred dollars on their accounts–one to a family member, another to a church and then pocketed that money. She also took money out of their petty cash accounts for activities they never took part in and forged a co-worker’s signature because two signatures were required. She bought a pre-paid Visa card with some of the money and also bought beauty supplies. She also covered up her actions by providing false receipts.
In court Aulner told Judge Crystal Johnson, “I know I messed up and made horrible choices, something I have to live with every day. I wish I could tell them how sorry I am. I am a good person. I made the biggest mistake of my life and I wish I could take it back.”
Aulner’s attorney told the court that she had fallen on hard times and that she was going through a divorce from her husband of 8 years when she stole the money.
Judge Johnson said while she could understand difficulties, she pointed out that Aulner had used some of the money at a beauty supply store, not on necessities, but items of vanity.
The judge told Aulner she was lucky she wasn’t facing stiffer felony charges, considering the forgery and that she still owes the victims more than $1,000.
“This is a situation where we have people who are placing their trust in Miss Aulner, for the reason they can’t do it themselves and she took advantage of that, but I think the sentence is fair, she’s going to be punished, she’s going to have that jail sentence on her head for 60 days and she’s going to make restitution to these two clients she did end up keeping money from,” Deputy Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Mark Hodges said.
Aulner, who is now in a new relationship and eight months pregnant, does not have to serve her jail sentence until after her baby is born. While she said she was sorry in court, she wasn’t talking outside of the courtroom.
“Jodi, Can I ask you if you have anything to say to the families of the people whose money you took? Jodi?”
Aulner won’t necessarily have to spend any time in jail; she can opt to pay a fee for electronic monitoring or work release.
In court, her attorney said that her current employer, Avera is aware of her crime and wants to retain her because she’s a valuable employee.
In addition to court fees and fines, Aulner will have to pay $1,198 in restitution to the LifeScape residents.
Their families tell me that LifeScape has already given them their money back.