By Ruffin Prevost
A former Yellowstone National Park employee pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Maine to embezzlement of cash from entry fee receipts paid by park visitors.
Danel Nickerson, 45, was indicted in January in Casper, Wyo., but the case was transferred to her home state of Maine at Nickerson’s request.
Court documents outlining federal prosecutors’ version of events, to which Nickerson pleaded guilty, state that she stole at least $7,429 in cash from Yellowstone entry fees paid by visitors. The case against Nickerson apparently included video surveillance footage that would have been used as evidence at trial.
Nickerson worked in the cash-counting office at Yellowstone National Park, but full details about her duties as a Yellowstone employee were not included in court documents.
During the summer of 2007, Nickerson’s job “included receiving envelopes containing cash that had been collected at the various entrance booths around Yellowstone,” prosecutors state.
Along with other employees, Nickerson was responsible for counting and recording cash receipts from entry gates and depositing the funds into “the appropriate Federal Reserve account,” prosecutors state.
On July 21, 2007, while working in the cash-counting office, Nickerson stole $3,129 in cash “by first concealing the envelope containing the cash among other paperwork on her desk and then by carrying the cash away from the office,” documents state.
Three days later, again while carrying out her duties in the cash-counting office, Nickerson stole $4,300 split between two envelopes.
“She did this by dropping the envelopes containing the cash into a trash can and subsequently removing it from the trash can and taking it away,” prosecutors state.
According to court documents, had the case gone to trial, prosecutors would have introduced “accounting evidence showing that the quantities of cash were missing and video recordings from surveillance cameras which were in place in the cash counting office.”
Nickerson’s attorney, federal defender David Beneman, said Thursday that his client had paid full restitution in connection with her guilty plea. He declined to comment on further details of the case, citing federal court rules.
Yellowstone spokesman Dan Hottle confirmed that Nickerson had been a Yellowstone Park employee, and said the National Park Service initiated the investigation that lead to her conviction.
Conviction in federal court for embezzlement of public funds carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
According to court documents, prosecutors did not plan to seek detention in the case.
Nickerson’s sentencing before U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen is scheduled for Aug. 9.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].