The former CEO of the Iowa branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation has pleaded guilty to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the charity, which helps children with serious medical conditions such as cancer.
According to court records viewed by E! News, Jennifer Woodley, 40, submitted a written guilty plea to two counts of first-degree theft and one count of fraudulent practices on May 27 and a judge accepted it on Tuesday, June 1. She admitted in her filing that she made unauthorized charges on a charity credit card, gave herself an unapproved bonus and salary increases and made false entries into records related to those expenses, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, June 2.
"We appreciate that the Iowa legal system resolved this matter with an agreement that includes restitution," Make-A-Wish said in a statement to E! News on Thursday, June 3. "As always, we remain committed to ensuring that donations to Make-A-Wish are safeguarded and properly used to advance our vision of granting the wish of every eligible child fighting a critical illness."
Woodley allegedly embezzled almost $41,000 since she became the president and CEO of the Iowa branch of the national charity in 2019, the Associated Press said. In July 2020, the group dismissed her after discovering financial irregularities during an internal compliance review.
Prosecutors are set to recommend Woodley be put on probation for five years under a plea deal, the Associated Press said on Wednesday. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for July 20.
One of Woodley's four children, her eldest daughter Molly, is a Make-A-Wish recipient. The little girl, who was born premature at 24 weeks and underwent brain surgery when she was younger, was granted a wish from the national charity to go to Disney World several years ago, The Des Moines Register reported.
Local mom Amy Nesbitt, whose toddler daughter Aila was diagnosed with leukemia about two years ago and who was also promised a Disney World trip by the organization, told Iowa CBS affiliate KCCI in response to the news about Woodley's crime, "I have no words. Taking advantage of all of the family and friends and volunteers and companies that are donating their time and effort to make this happen for these families, it's honestly, just sickening."
—Reporting by Spencer Lubitz