Former ND law clinic employee pleads guilty to 11 felonies

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Marilyn Odendahl for www.theindianalwyer.com

The former employee of the University of Notre Dame who was charged with taking nearly $200,000 from the law school’s Clinical Law Center will plead guilty plea and faces up to five years in prison.

Jennifer Ihns has agreed to plead guilty to 11 felonies, including one count of corrupt business influence, one count forgery and nine counts of theft, and to pay $199,000 in restitution to the university. She also agreed to a potential executed sentence of no longer than five years.

The plea was conditionally accepted. A sentencing hearing has been set for 9 a.m. April 13 before St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Sanford.

Ihns’ attorney, Stanley Wruble III, did not return a call seeking comment.

According to the supplemental affidavit filed by the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, Ihns engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity with more than 200 thefts and more than 95 forgeries between January 2009 and June 2016 while she was employed at the law clinic. She wrote and cashed checks to herself from the clinic’s operating account and from the clinic’s Interest of Lawyer Trust Account.

Ihns, who had signatory authority over all the clinic bank accounts, hid her thefts with a series of forgeries. When the scanned images of the cashed checks arrived from the bank each month, Ihns altered either the recipient or the amount to cover her looting of the clinic accounts.

“The breadth of all her illicit activities may never be fully known — but there are over 255 separate checks on separate days representing separate thefts of University/Clinic/Client funds over a seven-and-one-half-year period,” David Newton, investigator for the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, wrote in his supplemental affidavit.

Ihns began her career at what was then the Legal Aid Clinic as a paralegal and office coordinator. She worked her way up to clinic administrator.

Her crimes were discovered after an internal audit by the University of Notre Dame in mid-June 2016. The inquiry found improper handling of clinic funds and highlighted Ihns as critical to understanding the scope of what had occurred.

She initially denied any wrongdoing, but when confronted with the altered checks, she said, “I did it.” Ihns explained she had a “financial need” and that all the money was gone. Her employment at the clinic ended July 7, 2016.

The audit found no of losses by any of the clinic’s clients but Ihns’ recordkeeping created instances of ambiguity, according to the supplemental affidavit. In those cases, Notre Dame paid those clients so that Ihns’ conduct only harmed the university.

 

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