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A former Bozeman employee accused of embezzling from the city, then stealing money from a downtown business organization months later, denied the allegations against her in a court hearing on Friday.

Jessica Johnson appeared via video in Gallatin County District Court where she pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of theft by embezzlement in two separate cases.

Judge John Brown allowed Johnson to remain released on her own recognizance while her cases are pending. Scheduling hearings are slated for next month.

According to charging documents:

City officials contacted the Bozeman Police Department in late June 2016 about a possible theft by Johnson, who had been hired as the city’s neighborhood coordinator in November 2015. She had been placed on administrative leave on June 22 and then resigned on June 28 following a meeting with an assistant city manager and human resources.

An investigation by the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office showed that Johnson had used former City Manager Chris Kukulski’s credit card to charge $470 for a dog sledding trip. She later admitted to city staff that the charge was personal and claimed that the trip, and several other purchases, were made by accident. She then paid the city back for the trip.

Johnson also allegedly was given a travel advance of $1,134 for a business trip to Chicago in 2016. However, Johnson then charged her Chicago hotel room to a city credit card instead of paying for it with the advance money.

Investigators said that Johnson also bought approximately $2,400 to $2,800 in unauthorized gift cards, and spent an additional $600 in reloading some of those gift cards.

Johnson told city staff that she used the gift cards to pay out grant application requests made by her department, but officials couldn’t find anyone to confirm that.

Other suspicious charges made with city credit cards or money included 10 phone cases, keyboards, an Amazon Prime membership for Johnson, and purchases at the Taproom bar in Bozeman, massage bars and at the Duck Store in Eugene, Oregon.

The sheriff’s office investigation showed that Johnson paid back the city $2,019 for unauthorized use of the city’s cards and funds, but that she still owed $4,055.

Thirteen days after she resigned from the city, Johnson took a job with the Downtown Bozeman Partnership, where she worked as operations manager until she quit on Nov. 2.

Johnson had access to DBP’s business checking account but was not authorized to write checks to herself or cash from that account.

The DBP president reported to Bozeman police a possible theft from the organization.

An investigation showed that on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the day Johnson quit, she wrote two checks from DBP’s checking account to cash totaling $2,005. Both were deposited into Johnson’s personal bank accounts.

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Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

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