An employee of the Vicksburg National Military Park has been released on bond after being charged with embezzling “more than $1,000” in park funds.
Yolanda Ward of Port Gibson was arrested by federal officials on Aug. 10 and appeared before U.S. Magistrate LaKeysha Greer Issac on Aug. 18. Ward has been freed on a $10,000 bond.
The charges brought by the Department of Justice, Southern District, say Ward “did willfully and knowingly steal, purloin, embezzle and convert to her own use more than $1,000 in funds, goods and property of the United States.”
The exact amount of money missing was not available in public federal court records.
Ward was in charge of all fee collections at gates associated with the park, according to park sources.
The thefts took place over years, starting as early as January 2017, according to court documents. Park sources said the theft was caught as a result of an audit and park employees were told in August about the charges and arrest.
If convicted, Ward faces a possible sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release.
Federal Public Defender Michael L. Scott was appointed to represent Ward.
A trial before Federal Judge Carlton Reeves has been set for 9 a.m., Oct.12 at the Thad Cochran U.S. Courthouse in Jackson.
UPDATE – September 8, 3:25 p.m.
The National Park Service has responded to the story with this comment:
“Vicksburg National Military Park officials launched an internal investigation into the park’s entrance fee program when accounting discrepancies were uncovered in January 2020. The park immediately suspended fee collection, reported its findings and the matter was ultimately referred to the Department of Justice. The National Park Service is fully committed to ensuring accountability and taking appropriate action to prevent violations like this from happening again.
In August 2021, the National Park Service implemented a new standardized point of sale system nationwide, which includes advanced reporting capabilities, automated monitoring and notification helping to track and target inconsistencies in fee collection more quickly than traditional systems. Later this fall, the park will reinitiate its entrance fee program incorporating these measures, while also introducing a new, cashless fee system to reduce the risk of theft, increase oversight and better protect park funds.” – Saudia Muwwakkil, National Park Service spokesperson.
A correction was made to the story regarding Ward’s position with the park.