Former Ponca City Clerk Faces Trio of Criminal Charges for Allegedly Wiping Clean City Records

Former Ponca City Clerk Faces Trio of Criminal Charges for Allegedly Wiping Clean City Records
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July 9th, 2024 | Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — The former city clerk in Ponca, Nebraska, now stands charged with three criminal offenses for allegedly destroying years of city financial records just prior to her dismissal 16 months ago.

Denise Peterson, 59, was charged recently in Dixon County Court with one count each of abuse of public records and official misconduct, and one count of violation of the state records act. 

The first two counts are Class II misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The public records charge is a Class III misdemeanor that carries a potential of three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Messages left with a cell phone registered to Peterson did not elicit a response Monday.

The Nebraska State Auditor’s Office stated in October that Peterson, the northeast Nebraska town’s clerk for 21 years, may have violated state laws by wiping clean city computer records, disabling a data backup system and removing all emails and passwords related to her accounts just prior to being fired in February 2023.

Ponca city officials said the actions were “deliberate and premeditated to leave all the city cupboards bare and the city non-operational.” It prompted an expensive effort, officials said, to attempt to restore the records.

At the time, State Auditor Mike Foley called Peterson’s actions “very disturbing and beyond anything I have ever seen.” He said she deserved “harsh penalties.”

Auditors also raised questions about two instances in which Peterson was issued duplicate paychecks for two work periods and said she had possibly misused a city credit card for purchases in excess of $10,000.

City of Ponca officials, in their official response to the 2023 audit, said that new rules had been adopted concerning use of the city credit cards and that steps had been taken to back up city records.

The charges against Peterson, filed by Dixon County Attorney Leland Miner on June 28, allege that the offenses took place between Jan. 30, 2023, and Feb. 17, 2023.


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