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Ex-State Fair finance chief gets 30 days in jail, 15 years of probation for theft of fair money
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Ex-State Fair finance chief gets 30 days in jail, 15 years of probation for theft of fair money

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Patrick Kopke

Before tendering his resignation, Nebraska State Fair Financial Director Patrick Kopke went through the numbers in January showing the State Fair was in "financial distress." 

The former finance chief of the Nebraska State Fair on Friday was sentenced to 30 days in county jail and 15 years of probation for stealing thousands of dollars in state fair funds he was supposed to be overseeing.

Hall County District Judge Andrew Butler also ordered 30-year-old Patrick Kopke of Hastings to pay $158,170 restitution and perform 300 hours of community service.

In August, Kopke pleaded no contest to three felony theft charges dating to 2019, on Feb. 7 or 8, July 12 and Sept. 3.

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By the time the Nebraska Attorney's General's Office charged him last year, Kopke already had resigned from his job as the fair's chief of finance and administration after a state audit showed a company he created had been paid nearly $150,000 in state fair funds with no invoices proving the company had done any work for the fair.

Auditors said Kopke had used bank accounts connected to the company to pay for more than $100,000 in personal expenses.

In 2020, the fair board announced that an internal review of its finances turned up "suspicious" activity. Beth Smith, the board's chairwoman, announced at the time that the board had alerted the Nebraska State Patrol and the Attorney General's Office.

Butler sentenced Kopke in Grand Island on Friday morning.

However, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said the state plans to appeal a sentence it considers too lenient.

“We intend to appeal the matter," Peterson said in a statement. "Mr. Kopke was put in a position of public trust. He violated that trust and pled to a felony. The State asked the court for a 5- to 10-year prison sentence. We believe the sentence issued … is inadequate.”

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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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