Fast track to hell? Former Make a Wish CEO pleads guilty to theft from children’s charity

Talk about shame, there are few things lower than stealing money intended to help provide dying children with memorable experiences.

The former CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa charged with embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the charity had pleaded guilty, admitting in her pleas to the unauthorized use of a credit card.

Jennifer Woodley admitted in a written guilty plea last week to the theft that began in the summer of 2019, according to the New York Post. Make-A-Wish supports sick and dying children, and their families. She was arrested on January 21, 2021.

Pleading guilty to two felony counts of first-degree theft and one count of fraudulent practices, also a felony, Woodley faces a sentence of five years of probation, along with fines and restitution, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

“We appreciate that the Iowa legal system resolved this matter with an agreement that includes restitution,” Make-A-Wish said in a statement. “As always, we remain committed to ensuring that donations to Make-A-Wish are safeguarded and properly used to advance our vision of granting the wish of every eligible child fighting a critical illness.”

Assuming the role of president of the Iowa chapter in August 2019 — it’s based in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, one of 60 chapters of Make-A-Wish America — the 40-year-old woman “also admitted to giving herself an unapproved bonus and salary increases, and to making false entries in foundation records to cover those expenses,” the Post reported.

With an annual budget of $4 million, Make-A-Wish Iowa has a staff of 16 employees and is governed by a 17-member volunteer board.

Wasting little time, Woodley gave herself a $10,000 bonus that wasn’t approved by the board two months after becoming CEO and, according to court records, she also used the charity’s credit card to spend $23,000 on herself in a 10-month span, without reimbursing the organization.

Her replacement, Sara Kurovski, said earlier this year that her focus would include helping to make sure something like this could never happen again.

“During our conversations through the interview process, I was clear with the board I want to be a part of making sure that we put into place [parameters] that ensure that that never happens again,” she told KCCI.

Woodley and her husband, Matt Woodley, moved to Urbandale for his job as assistant coach for Drake University’s basketball team, People Magazine reported. In Sept. 2020, the family moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., with her husband now coaching at Wake Forest University.

Scheduled for sentencing on July 20, Woodley’s attorney, Nicholas Sarcone, said he would ask for a deferred judgment.

The Post explained that if granted, that would mean the case would be expunged from Woodley’s record, as long as she completes probation and other parts of her sentence.

The Woodley’s have had two daughters who required brain surgery, and one of them received a trip to Walt Disney World through Make-A-Wish Iowa before Woodley was hired as CEO, the Des Moines Register reported.

Here’s a quick sampling of responses to the story from Twitter:

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Tom Tillison

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