Kansas Statehouse payroll worker has history of theft charges
Pamela Buckhalter entered a plea deal in April in which she agreed not to contest felony and misdemeanor charges, as well as repay more than $40,000 to Soldier Township. (Kansas Reflector illustration from Legislative Administrative Services photo and Shawnee County District Court document)
TOPEKA — An employee in charge of payroll at the Kansas Statehouse recently agreed to a felony plea deal after stealing more than $40,000 from employee health savings accounts while working as a bookkeeper for Soldier Township.

Pamela Buckhalter also faced a felony theft charge in 2008 after she was accused of stealing more than $13,000 from Topeka High School while working as a cheerleading coach and secretary with bookkeeping duties. That charge was dropped when she agreed to pay back the missing funds.

Buckhalter, 53, now works in payroll for Legislative Administrative Services. The division’s director, Tom Day, didn’t respond to questions sent by email Tuesday about when Buckhalter was hired, if other candidates were considered for the position, whether he knew about the criminal charges before she was hired and what financial controls are in place to prevent theft.

Kansas Reflector independently obtained court documents after learning about the charges from an individual who didn’t identify themselves. The individual said they mailed to Republican and Democratic leadership on Tuesday copies of court records and past news stories about Buckhalter.

A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes said her office learned about charges against Buckhalter in May 2021 and alerted Senate President Ty Masterson’s staff.

“The charges raise concerns about Pam’s role in administering payroll, which is why Sen. Sykes directed our office to share the information we found online with the Senate president’s staff,” said Helena Buchmann, the spokeswoman for Sykes, in an email to Kansas Reflector.

Buchmann said the office isn’t aware of any concerns with Buckhalter’s performance in her current position.

Mike Pirner, spokesman for Masterson, said the Senate president learned about the charges on Tuesday when Kansas Reflector asked about them. Pirner directed questions to Day.

“Because this is a personnel matter, it is inappropriate for our office to comment,” Pirner said.

Staff for Republican and Democratic leadership in the House didn’t answer questions sent by email Tuesday.

Buckhalter’s attorney, Kevin Jones, said Wednesday morning he would need at least 24 hours to respond to a request for comment.

Shawnee County District Court records show Buckhalter was charged in July 2020 with five felony thefts, felony forgery, felony unlawful use of computers and two misdemeanor thefts for crimes Buckhalter was accused of committing from 2015 to 2017 while working at Soldier Township, which is just north of Topeka.

District Attorney Mike Kagay said the charges were in relation to a series of thefts from the health savings accounts of Soldier Township employees, WIBW-TV reported when the charges were filed.

Buckhalter entered a plea deal on April 20 in which she agreed not to contest amended charges of felony attempted forgery and misdemeanor theft. The rest of the charges were dropped.

As part of the deal, she has to pay back $42,850.47 in restitution and pay a $500 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for June 24.

The earlier case was settled in 2009, when Buckhalter agreed to pay back $13,755 and never accept or apply for employment with the Topeka school district, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

School officials originally reported $20,000 was missing from the activities fund, but some records were damaged by water, the newspaper reported. Buckhalter had resigned as the cheerleading coach following a suspension in 2006.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.