HAMMOND — A bookkeeper's indictment alleging she stole more than $10,000 in federal grant money from the Genesis Convention Center's coffers stemmed, in part, from a city government internal audit, the city's mayor announced Wednesday.
“The administration and the city council have worked hard to ensure the profitability of the Genesis Center. Any actions inconsistent with those efforts are unacceptable," Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. "The good news is that the internal audit process and internal controls are working. The Internal Auditor continues to hold city employees to high standards.”
Wilson’s indictment also came as a result of findings by the State Board of Accounts, she said.
“We will continue to strengthen our internal controls to minimize the possibility of any other incidents like this occurring. At the same time, we are always disappointed when employees breach the public’s trust and confidence. We will also continue to conduct audits and refer findings to the State Board of Accounts and all other authorities when appropriate," she said.
Victoria Wilson, 52, of Portage, was charged Tuesday in U.S. District Court with one count of theft from a local government entity receiving federal funds.
Wilson was hired as the center's bookkeeper in February 2017 and served as interim executive director from August 2017 through February 2018, court records state. Between March and October 2017, Wilson used her position to steal more than $10,000 in cash from the Genesis Convention Center, prosecutors allege.
She was appointed to the position by the center's board of directors. The board members are appointed by Freeman-Wilson.
Wilson has entered into a plea agreement with the courts, requiring she pay $12,727 in restitution to the city, court records show.
“Public corruption cannot and will not be tolerated at any level. My office, together with our law enforcement partners, will continue to pursue matters involving public corruption. I encourage anyone with information concerning corrupt public officials to contact my office or the FBI," Kirsch said.
The Genesis Convention Center has struggled to attract business in recent years, and much like the rest of Gary city government, struggles financially. The center provides rental space and catering services for conferences, weddings and other events.
The City Council in 2017 gave its formal support to the potential sale of the center, arguing the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to subsidize operations there.
Since that time, the city hired a commercial real estate brokerage firm to help sell several city-owned properties, including the Genesis Convention Center. Built in 1981, the building has 6,500 stadium seats and 24,000 square feet of ballroom space.