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Bonanza City Treasurer accused of using city funds for shopping, overpaying her own salary

The audit found that Denham had use the city's credit card to purchase $21,000 in gift cards to stores like JCPenney's, Ulta, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

BONANZA, Ark. — Laurie Denham, the treasurer of the City of Bonanza as well as the mayor's daughter, has been accused of overpaying her own salary and purchasing gift cards with the city's credit card, totaling over $38,000 in stolen city funds.

According to the Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Shue, a warrant of arrest was issued on Nov. 23 against Denham and she was arrested on Dec. 5.

That affidavit presented by an investigator with the Arkansas State Police says that after an audit on the City of Bonanza—with a population just over 500, according to the U.S. Census— auditors found discrepancies with the documents provided to them by Denham, the treasurer at the time.

After further research and a subsequent investigation by the auditors, they found that between Jan. 1, 2018, and Aug. 8, 2022, Denham "issued herself extra checks from the City's accounts over and above her normal weekly paychecks," the affidavit said. 

The documents given to auditors by Denham had different entities that were paid by the city than what they had found on bank statements, allegedly because the checks were "altered in the City database after the checks were deposited in the bank." 

Denham was accused of overpaying herself a total of $16,708 and giving documents to auditors that had information "covered or redacted so as to hide the payee of the checks" along with checks that were missing altogether, according to the affidavit.

Another large sum of funds was sent to her own personal email account, state police allege, from "numerous e-gift cards" purchased from stores like JCPenney's, Ulta, and Bed, Bath and Beyond. The gift cards were reportedly purchased with the City of Bonanza's credit card totaling $21,333.95 in money sent directly to Denham.

While a total of $38,042 in "unauthorized disbursements" were sent to Denham, the affidavit also mentions an additional $178,874 in funds that are unaccounted for ($173,404 in undeposited water bills and the rest in undeposited manual receipts), but the investigators said that amount isn't directly linked to Denham.

Denham has been charged with one count of theft of property over the amount of $25,000 which is a felony that if convicted, means the sentence can't be less than five years or more than 20 years and may have to pay a fine not exceeding $15,000.

On Dec. 7, Denham's attorney appeared in court on her behalf and entered a not-guilty plea, according to Shue.

5NEWS will update this article with more information as it becomes available.

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