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Contributed photo / Courtney Conley, 33, of Marion County, Tenn., is charged with theft over $10,000, official misconduct, tampering with evidence and 18 counts of forgery.

A former assistant in the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Office in Jasper, Tennessee, has been arrested on indictments alleging theft of more than $39,000.

Courtney Conley, 33, a former administrative support assistant, is charged with theft over $10,000, official misconduct, tampering with evidence and 18 counts of forgery, according to a news release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury office in Nashville. The indictment was issued by Marion County's grand jury.

Marion County Jail officials said Tuesday that Conley is free on $15,000 bond.

The extension office serves residents with educational programs, and it receives cash and checks as payment for its services.

According to comptroller officials, investigators determined that Conley stole at least $39,109 between November 2018 and March 2020. Officials said Conley admitted to investigators that she was experiencing financial difficulties when she stole the funds to pay her personal expenses.

Conley employed two schemes to misappropriate the money, authorities said.

She issued and cashed 18 checks payable to herself totaling at least $15,411, and she also kept at least $23,698 in cash that she should have deposited in the extension office account, they allege. In order to conceal her theft, authorities said, Conley falsified signatures on checks, altered bank statements and made false entries in the office's accounting system.

The investigation began after extension office officials reported questionable transactions in its accounting and bank records, officials said. Conley's employment was terminated March 31, 2020.

The office's director in Jasper, Dannie Bradford, said Tuesday Conley has since been replaced. Bradford said she couldn't otherwise comment.

"There were several weaknesses within this office that allowed these schemes to go undetected for more than a year before the bank notified the extension office that its account was overdrawn," Comptroller Jason Mumpower said in the news release. "Most importantly, one person was given too much authority over the financial processes within the office, and not enough oversight was provided to ensure money was being used properly."

Anyone who suspects fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee is urged to call the comptroller's toll-free hotline at 800-232-5454, or file a report at tncot.cc/fraud.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter.

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