Susan Ohman, head of Panhandle Special Needs, is facing federal theft charges for alleged misuse of funds while directing a similar non-profit agency in Idaho Falls.
The charges against Ohman were filed last week after a two-year investigation of her tenure at the Human Service Center in Idaho Falls.
Ohman appeared in federal court in Coeur d’Alene last Friday and pleaded innocent to intentionally misapplying about $9,791 earmarked for children’s programs.
Ohman was hired in July to work at Sandpoint’s Panhandle Special Needs. The agency is a private, non-profit corporation that receives federal funds to help developmentally disabled adults.
Some board members at Panhandle Special Needs said they were aware Ohman had trouble at her previous job when they hired her.
But several were not aware the problems led to an FBI investigation and indictment that could mean a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $25,000.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said board member Carmen Norstog. She was chairman when Ohman was hired. Ohman’s references all checked out and she received good recommendations, Norstog said. News of the indictment surprised her.
“It’s an issue the board will have to address. I’m not sure if the others know about it,” she said.
Board member Denny Scallon declined to comment when told Ohman faced federal theft charges.
“I just don’t feel it’s appropriate to comment right now,” he said.
Norstog and other board members, however, were quick to defend Ohman’s track record at Panhandle Special Needs.
Board member Karen Forsyth said the agency has been through about four directors in the last three years and Ohman has been superb.
“She has been excellent and probably the best director we have had there in years.”
“She’s been an asset to our organization and brought us through some difficult financial struggles while she’s been in charge,” added Norstog. Ohman’s troubles also shocked Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jonathan Coe. Ohman is on the chamber board and in charge of membership and fundraising.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it. I suspect it will be discussed by the chamber executive committee, but I don’t see any action being taken,” Coe said.
Ohman declined to comment about how the charges will affect her post here. She referred all questions to her attorney Janet Jenkins. Jenkins also declined to comment on the case, saying only that Ohman has not been found guilty of anything.
Ohman came to Sandpoint after resigning under fire from her job in Idaho Falls in 1992.
The final report and indictment accused Ohman of using federal money earmarked for Head Start and other children’s programs to pay for new windows and a new roof in a house owned by her now former husband.
The Human Services Center board of directors placed Ohman on probation in 1992 after an audit found faulty accounting procedures, including the cashing of checks with forged signatures and unreimbursed pay advances.