Lawsuit alleges county treasurer fired whistleblower

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

A former employee of the Leavenworth County Treasurer’s Office alleges in a lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing.

Michele Connel is suing the Leavenworth County Commission and County Treasurer Janice Van Parys.

An attorney filed the lawsuit on behalf of Connel last month in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was filed by Kansas City, Missouri, attorney Michael Stipetich,

Connel worked in the Treasurer’s Office as a motor vehicle deputy.

The lawsuit alleges Van Parys has employed family members even though the county government has a policy that prohibits nepotism.

According to the lawsuit, Connel told Van Parys she believed one of the treasurer’s daughters-in-law, who works in the Treasurer’s Office, was using illegal drugs.

In December, cash was taken from a safe in the Treasurer’s Office. Connel believes the cash was taken at a time when only she and the treasurer’s daughter-in-law were on duty and the safe was open.

The lawsuit indicates Connel told Van Parys she believed the treasurer’s daughter-in-law took the money.

According to the lawsuit, Connel spoke with a detective who was investigating the theft in late December. She told the detective of her concerns about nepotism in the Treasurer’s Office and that the only other person who was on duty and had access to the safe was the treasurer’s daughter-in-law. Connel also told the detective she believed the treasurer’s daughter-in-law was taking illegal drugs. And Connel expressed fear of losing her job because of the information she provided, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit indicates Connel spoke with a detective from the Leavenworth Police Department.

However, Leavenworth Police Chief Pat Kitchens said he has been unable to verify the Police Department worked on such an investigation.

Undersheriff Jim Sherley said the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office is the law enforcement agency that has been handling the investigation into the reported theft.

“We have been looking into that,” Sherley said.

He said the investigation is ongoing.

The lawsuit states Connel was fired Jan. 7. The treasurer did not provide Connel a reason for the termination.

The lawsuit also alleges Connel was not properly paid for overtime and accuses the defendants of violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Van Parys declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Senior County Counsel David Van Parys, who is the attorney for the County Commission, released a statement. David Van Parys is married to the treasurer.

“It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for terminated employees to claim their termination was improper,” David Van Parys said in the statement. “The allegations made by the former employee in the complaint filed in this case are not facts, but allegations. Leavenworth County denies these allegations and looks forward to its opportunity to vigorously defend itself through the appropriate legal process.”

Court records indicate attorneys from an Overland Park law firm are representing county commissioners and the treasurer in the lawsuit.

The attorneys for the defendants have been given until Thursday to file a response in the case.

Janice Van Parys is running for reelection this year to the office of county treasurer. She is running unopposed.

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