Notre Dame law clinic employee accused of embezzlement

An employee of the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center has been charged with 11 felony counts relating to what the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office says is a seven-year-long racketeering scheme in which the university found more than $199,000 was stolen.

Jennifer S. Ihns, 44, was charged Friday with level 5 felony corrupt business influence, nine counts of theft and a count of forgery as either Class D or Level 6 felonies. Prosecutors said Ihns “through a pattern of racketeering activity” enriched herself with more than 200 thefts and 95 forgeries of checks written to herself or to third parties that she cashed. Ihns was released from the St. Joseph County Jail after posting $10,000 bond and was scheduled to appear before a magistrate Tuesday afternoon.

Ihns was clinic administrator after beginning her career with the Clinical Law Center, formerly the Legal Aid Clinic, as a paralegal and office coordinator, investigators said in charging documents. The charges accuse Ihns, who had signatory authority over all clinic bank accounts, of writing nine checks she cashed in amounts from $725 to $1,500 between 2012 and June 2016. The checks were drawn on the Notre Dame Legal Aid Interest on Lawyers Trust Account fund and the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic operating expenses account.

Investigator David Newton of the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office wrote in a supplemental affidavit in support of probable cause that Notre Dame conducted an inquiry into the handling of the law center’s funds, which was provided to one assistant dean and one associate dean responsible for the clinic’s oversight. “Both administrators reviewed those documents the same day and immediately identified wide-spread evidence of improper handling of Clinic funds,” the affidavit says.

Ihns initially denied any knowledge, but admitted “I did it” when confronted with specific details of improprieties and altered checks, according to the affidavit. Ihns allegedly said she had a financial need and all the money was gone, estimating she’d been embezzling for about two years and was responsible for $20,000 to $30,000.

The university then undertook a seven-year lookback that “revealed evidence that Ihns stole over $199,000,” the affidavit said, and the evidence was turned over to authorities. “The breadth of all her illicit activities may never be fully known — but there are over 255 separate checks on separate days representing separate thefts of University/Clinic/Client funds over a seven-and-one-half-year period,” the affidavit says.

The document says no evidence was found of specific losses to any client, but Ihns’ recordkeeping causes ambiguity. “In those cases, the University paid those Clinic clients whatever funds appeared appropriate to ensure that Ihns’ conduct harmed only the university.”

A spokeswoman for the law school did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.  

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