Former Warren County Assessor Wendy Nordwald Kozma defended herself in a hearing to revoke her probation for failing to pay restitution after being convicted of felony stealing crimes.
Former Warren County Assessor Wendy (Nordwald) Kozma took the stand during a Sept. 15 hearing to determine whether her probation should be revoked.
Osage County Judge Sonya Brandt, who has overseen Kozma’s case, will make her decision during a hearing on Oct. 6.
If Brandt revokes Kozma’s prosecution, the former county official would be required to fulfill the remainder of a 10-year prison sentence. In June 2022, Kozma reached a plea agreement that allowed her to serve just four months in prison and pay $213,000 in restitution.
To pay the required restitution, Kozma would have to pay $3,563.87 each month she was on probation, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Kelly King said during the hearing.
That means Kozma should have paid more than $35,000 in restitution since leaving prison in December.
But through Sept. 15, Kozma had paid just $1,968.82, with most of that coming since April when King filed a motion to revoke the former county assessor’s probation.
According to testimony from Holly Gibson, who monitors restitution payments for the Warren County prosecutor’s office, Kozma made a payment of $162.82 in January, and then made no further restitution payments until May, when two payments were received.
She also made small payments in June, July and August.
Kozma said this was because she had no job and no assets. She also said she was making payments to cover her required court costs.
“I have some serious health issues and I am not working,” she said in response to a question from Timothy Lohmar, her defense attorney. But she testified that she is looking for employment.
“I look for jobs online every week,” she said.
She also said she had applied for Social Security disability benefits because of her health. That application was made in August.
“If you get such an award, are you willing to devote that toward your restitution figure, whatever that amount may be?” Lohmar asked.
“Sure. Yeah. Sure,” Kozma said.
Lohmar then argued that Kozma had never signed a repayment plan specifying how much she would have to pay each month.
“Why have you not done so as of today?” he asked.
“There was no order,” Kozma said. “I don’t understand that document. There was no order in any of the documents.”
“Was it your understanding that you would just pay whatever you were capable of paying,” Lohmar asked.
“Yes,” Kozma said. “The order says just to make a payment.”
And Lohmar confirmed that Kozma was willing to make those payments.
“Yes,” Kozma said.
But on cross examination, King questioned how Kozma believed she could pay whatever she could afford.
“When you plead guilty, you were aware that you owed almost $214,000 in restitution, correct?” King asked.
“Yes,” Kozma replied.
“And so I assume you did that math and you knew that you were going to have to pay $3,563.87 a month for every month on probation to fulfill that obligation. Did you?”
“Yes, but my circumstances…” Kozma began before she was cut off.
“That’s not the question. You knew that’s how much you were going to have to pay, correct?” King said.
“Yes, but my circumstances changed,” Kozma again said.
King then questioned Kozma about the jobs she applied for. Kozma was not able to answer the question.
“I don’t remember but I have a whole list and you can see every single one of them because I have to turn them into my probation officer,” Kozma defiantly said.
King probed further.
“Are you saying you’ve applied for 20 jobs a week all this time and you can’t think of a single place you’ve applied?”
“I have memory fog and so you’re putting me under pressure,” Kozma testified.
She did say she had applied at Marriott and that “I’ve applied for things that are beneath my previous jobs.”
King finally told Kozma she had received her employment search, and that it showed she had applied for jobs as an executive director and a financial position with Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Kozma pleaded guilty to 15 counts of stealing from the Missouri State Assessors Association.
Kozma also admitted she had not applied at any restaurants or gas stations because of her health issues.
After King was finished with her questions, Lohmar asked Kozma to spell out what her health issues were.
“I can’t stand very long, can’t walk very far,” she said. “I sleep a lot. The biggest thing is I can’t stand very long.”
He also asked her to be more specific with what types of jobs she was looking for.
“I look for jobs that I know I can do online,” Kozma said. “And so I looked for a lot of jobs that I could do at home on the computer than allow me to get up from the computer, maybe go to the bathroom, and I look for things that are desk jobs that I know that I’m able to sit and move to get up and have a break because there’s no way I can stand all day.”
“Have you had any job interviews?” Lohmar asked.
“Nope,” Kozma said defiantly. “It’s hard when your name’s all over the paper.”
Technical difficulties caused by a poor internet connection at the Osage County Courthouse caused the judge to disconnect from the hearing multiple times during Kozma’s testimony.
When Kozma stepped down from the witness stand, Brandt asked for a short recess so she could make sure she had her complete testimony.
During that recess, Kozma could be seen visibly shaking as she sat next to Lohmar at the defense table.
After that recess, both King and Lohmar made their final arguments.
“She may have some health issues. I don’t know what they are. None of my business, but the fact remains, she’s not applying for jobs,” King said. “As she said, I applied for jobs that are beneath me. That’s why she’s not applying for Taco Bell and the local gas station because she believes those jobs are beneath her. … She’s applied for jobs like executive director, financial positions with the Norwegian cruise lines knowing she has felony stealing charges pending. It’s not because she can’t make more payments. It’s because she doesn’t want to make more payments. She’s made no effort … and it’s not until the state files the motion to revoke that she hires a lawyer and starts making some payments.”
But Lohmar disputed that statement.
“To say that Ms. Kozma has made no effort, I think that’s just not correct. It may not be the effort that the state prefers, but it is effort,” he said. “The fact remains that she was not ordered to pay a specific sum each month. She testified as to her willingness to pay anything the court would impose in terms of a monthly repayment plan. But for the payment history she has, albeit not in amounts or maybe with the frequency that any of us like, it’s only been 10 months since she’s been released from the department of corrections.”
King had one final statement to the judge.
“I understand she says she’s willing to abide by whatever monthly payment the court imposes. By my math, in order to pay this off by the end of probation, she would have to pay over $4,000 a month. If she can’t get a job, that’s not going to happen. And the reason she says it’s hard to get a job is because I’m a convicted felon. … There’s no way she can come up with $4,000 a month. I think at this point, the probation should be revoked and the sentence executed.”
But Lohmar, in his final statement to the judge, reminded the court that the reason Kozma was given probation was so that she could pay the restitution.
“If the sentence is executed and probation is revoked, then there will be zero restitution payments that she’s able to make,” he said. “Again, I would ask the court to give Ms. Kozma an opportunity to live up to a specific obligation to set forth in the payment plan and then understand what the repercussions of her failure to do so would be moving forward.”
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at firstname.lastname@example.org