Former Make-A-Wish Iowa CEO charged with embezzling funds

The former CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa has been arrested on felony charges alleging she embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from the charity that supports sick children, the group confirmed Friday.

Jennifer Woodley, 40, turned herself in to authorities in Des Moines on Thursday to face two charges of first-degree theft and the unauthorized use of a credit card. She was booked at the Polk County Jail and released after posting $30,000 bond.

Two months after becoming the group’s president and CEO, Woodley secretly awarded herself a $10,000 bonus in October 2019 that had not been approved by its board, according to criminal complaints unsealed Friday.

The bonus, which Woodley added to a list of legitimate bonuses earned by other employees, cost the organization $15,540 in all, police said.

Woodley also made 84 unauthorized purchases on an organization credit card that were for her personal use, totaling more than $23,000 over a 10-month span, the complaints state. Woodley allegedly did not reimburse the group for those expenses.

Based in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, the Iowa group is one of 60 chapters of Make-A-Wish America, which works to provide support and memorable experiences for children with critical illnesses and their families.

Dave Farnsworth, the board chairman for Make-A-Wish Iowa, said the organization swiftly dismissed Woodley and notified police after discovering financial irregularities during an internal compliance review last July. He said the organization was “deeply saddened and disappointed by the events" that led to charges against Woodley.

“We thank the Urbandale Police Department for its investigation into this breach of Make-A-Wish’s ethical standards and policies, and we will continue to cooperate with law enforcement,” he said. “We know that we have an obligation to safeguard every dollar given to us.”

Defense attorney Nick Sarcone confirmed Friday that he was representing Woodley.

“She maintains her innocence and we look forward to our day in court,” he said.

Each charge Woodley faces is a class C felony that carries up to 10 years in prison.

The group’s most recent tax filing shows that Woodley began leading the organization on Aug. 5, 2019, and succeeded Chris Voggesser, who was paid roughly $140,000 annually. Woodley’s salary was not disclosed.

Make-A-Wish Iowa says it has an annual budget of $4 million, a staff of 16 employees and is governed by a 17-member volunteer board.

During Woodley’s tenure, the 35-year-old chapter granted its 4,000th wish for a child and said it planned to grant about 170 wishes for children per year.

Jail records list Woodley’s new address as Winston Salem, North Carolina, where her husband, Matt Woodley, is an assistant basketball coach at Wake Forest.

The couple has had two daughters who have required brain surgery, and one of them received a trip to Walt Disney World through Make-A-Wish Iowa before Woodley was hired as CEO.