SALT LAKE CITY — A 45-year-old former employee of the online Western Governors University was sentenced to prison Friday for stealing more than $500,000 from the school.

Third District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills sentenced Shelley Ann Wilkinson, of Bellgrade, Mont., to eight days in jail, three years probation, and 200 hours of community service for two counts of forgery, a third-degree felony. Wilkinson was also ordered to pay $526,780 in restitution and sentenced to zero to five years in prison on each count, but the prison terms were suspended. 

Wilkinson pleaded guilty to the charges in February. Additional charges of theft by deception, a second-degree felony, and forgery, a third-degree felony, were dismissed in exchange for the woman's plea.

Wilkinson worked for Western Governor's University from August 2007 through December 2010. In that time, her responsibilities included financial analysis and general accounting, but she was not authorized to generate or sign checks for the school.

After Wilkinson left the position, her successor noticed two checks had been recorded in the university's system for 1 cent each. Bank statements showed the checks with the same numbers actually totaled $169,780.81 and $245,000, charging documents state.

Scanned images of the checks — which were cashed in October 2010 — revealed they had both been written to Wilkinson and carried two employee signatures.  

A third check was eventually found. That check, which totaled $112,000, was cashed in September 2010 and carried the same two signatures.

The two employees whose names were signed to the checks told police they neither signed nor authorized the checks.

One of the employees contacted Wilkinson, who "admitted to taking the money and investing it in a house on the East Coast," the charges state. She further explained that the home was in Canada and she had written the forged signatures. 

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