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      Bayard Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Stealing Thousands from State Wards

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      A 70-year-old Bayard woman accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from state wards has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

      Judith Widener entered the plea Friday in Scottsbluff County District Court.

      Widener, the president of the Safe Haven Inc., was arrested in November following a report from the Nebraska Auditor's office which uncovered questionable use of over $35,000 intended for court-appointed wards.

      Accounting records revealed Widener deposited the money into accounts under her personal control.

      State Auditor Mike Foley says Widener masked her alleged embezzlement through a complex array of credit cards and dozens of bank accounts containing more than $600,000.

      In addition to the alleged theft of funds, the audit revealed that Widener had been made guardian for over 600 people across the state.

      Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican addressed that issue during his State of the Judiciary address earlier this year.

      He says the courts are developing an internal audit system for guardianship cases and will also require guardians to submit a list of their active cases to a judge before they are appointed to new ones.

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