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Woman gets probation for theft of $34K in unearned commission on Malcolm ballfield project

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A woman hired to write grants to secure money to build Malcolm a baseball field has been sentenced to probation for taking off with $34,000 in commissions she didn't earn.

Diana Hutchison of Council Bluffs, Iowa, did the same thing to the Platte County Historical Society in Columbus, where she got away with $2,625, and to the city of Rushville, where she took $4,500.

Judges in Platte and Sheridan counties already had placed her on probation on the felony theft charges earlier this year.

In the Lancaster County case, Hutchison, 64, pleaded no contest and at sentencing Thursday said she wanted to convey her "sincere apologies to those who were negatively affected through her actions."

She said probation and therapy are helping her make meaningful changes.

In arguing for probation, her attorney, Justin Kalemkiarian, said Hutchison had traumatic events in her life, engaged in criminal activity that wasn't justified and now is paying the consequences. But she had no prior criminal history.

On the other side, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Tara Parpart said this wasn't just a one-time thing.

"Ms. Hutchison went to great lengths to deceive the Malcolm Youth Sports Association," she said. "It not only affected the association. They were simply trying to build a ballfield for the children to play on."

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In January 2020, association members made a report to law enforcement about concerns they had about Hutchison, the grant writer they had hired to secure grant funding for a Field of Dreams field.

In exchange, Hutchison was to be paid a 15% commission for funds she secured for the project.

Hutchison provided invoices and letters from various foundations about funds that were going to be coming. But when the promised money didn't start arriving, association leaders became suspicious.

The board president called one of the foundations and learned that it hadn't agreed to make a donation on the project.

A Nebraska State Patrol investigator contacted several of the foundations and discovered seven hadn't pledged the funds that Hutchison said they had. By then, she already had been paid $34,050 commission for the fraudulent pledges.

On Thursday, District Judge Susan Strong said she initially didn't consider Hutchison a good candidate for probation given the high-dollar amount of the theft, but considered her lack of criminal history and the fact that she's paid full restitution.

The three-year probation term will be consecutive to the 18-month terms she was sentenced to in the Platte and Sheridan county cases.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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