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Fontana audits municipal court after judge's stealing is revealed

FONTANA — Village officials have ordered a special audit of Fontana’s municipal court after learning that now-deceased Municipal Judge David Jensen allegedly stole $40,000 from his private neighborhood association.

Village officials say they are confident that Jensen did not mishandle any funds within the municipal court, which collects more than $70,000 a year in fines from court defendants.

However, Village President Pat Kenny said officials ordered an audit of the court’s financial records by an outside firm after learning of Jensen’s alleged embezzlement from the Indian Hills Homeowner’s Association.

Kenny said that while it was a shame to hear about the embezzlement accusations, he regards it as unlikely that anything similar occurred in municipal court.

“We think this was all parts of the Indian Hills subdivision, and that was that,” Kenny said.

The village president referred other questions about the special audit to Village Administrator Theresa Loomer, who could not be reached for comment.

Jensen served as the village’s municipal judge for 12 years until his death Feb. 8 at age 72, four days after suffering a heart attack. He was seeking re-election for another term as judge in the April 7 election at the time of his death.

Shortly after his death, colleagues from the Indian Hills Homeowners Association presented Fontana police with evidence that Jensen had been stealing money from the association as the private group’s treasurer.

A police investigation found that Jensen had embezzled $42,950 over the past three years from the homeowners association.

His widow, Gabby Jensen, denied any knowledge of the embezzlement, but she told police that her husband was “desperate” from running up $60,000 in debts. She also believed stress from the situation possibly contributed to his death.

David Jensen had been the homeowners association’s treasurer for 11 years.

Association leaders turned over records of the embezzlement to police on March 2. Police reported that Jensen repeatedly inflated the group’s bills for contract work, then paid contractors out of his personal business account and skimmed off the difference for himself.

Police Chief Jeff Cates, who conducted the investigation himself, later determined that David Jensen had acted alone. And because Jensen was dead, Cates said, there was no way to prosecute and no need to investigate further.

Cates also said Jensen was not involved in the financial dealings of Fontana’s municipal court, and that the late judge is not suspected of any wrongdoing in his official elected capacity.

“We are taking some precautionary measures,” Cates said, “but there is no reason to believe there was any wrongdoing in his role as a judge.”

Village records show that the municipal court in 2019 collected $72,721 in penalties and fees, down from $79,977 the year before. The budget for 2020 is $75,000 in collections.

Jensen’s salary as the part-time judge was $6,700 a year.

Kenny said the municipal court operates as a separate entity from the rest of village government, and that Jensen never came into contact with the financial side. All fines paid to the court were handled by municipal court clerk Jan Armonda.

Armonda could not be reached for comment.

The municipal court typically is held the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Court sessions are being held by telephone until June 11 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Town of Linn municipal judge Peter King has volunteered to oversee Fontana cases since Jensen’s death.

Village records indicating when a special audit was ordered and what firm is conducting the audit were not immediately available.

Kenny referred those question to Loomer.

Other members of the village board also could not be reached for comment about the special audit.

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