NORFOLK, Neb. -- City officials in Norfolk are addressing the financial difficulties and long-term uncertainty surrounding North Fork Area Transit.

City communications manager Nick Stevenson issued the following joint statement on behalf of Norfolk mayor Josh Moenning, the Norfolk city council and city administrator Andy Colvin.

“The circumstances of North Fork Area Transit’s current financial situation are unfortunate and maddening.  The consequences of alleged fraud and mismanagement are now becoming very real to the system’s employees and users, those who have come to depend on the service. Concerned about losing rides, users are reaching out to us to tell their stories. We are hearing from families who rely on Transit to get kids to and from school, elderly and disabled folks who use it to get to medical appointments, and employees who need the rides to get to work. 

“The system is suffering for the alleged theft by its former director, and it’s clear that significant management and restructuring reforms need to be made to ensure something like this can never happen again. In the meantime, it is in the community’s interest to continue transport services for our most vulnerable citizens.  To that end, we are working with North Fork Area Transit’s mobility management team and community partners with the hope of continuing the most critical services during this period.”  

Stevenson noted that the city does not own, operate, or have oversight over North Fork Area Transit, a non-profit organization. It has, however, contributed funding to the system on an annual basis for several years. Last month, in an effort to help North Fork Area Transit meet payroll for its employees, the city council approved advancing the remainder of its financial obligation for this fiscal year.

North Fork Area Transit made an announcement Thursday that all of its services would be suspended effective Friday at 6:00 p.m.

The organization said it will continue to look for sponsors to help keep it operational, but barring new financial support, all of its ride services would no longer be offered. 

The suspension of services comes as authorities continue to search for former general manager Jeffrey Stewart, who is accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars on a company-issued credit card.

Initial court documents stated that Stewart was accused of embezzling approximately $740,000, though documents in a recent search warrant estimate that Stewart made a total of $750,000 to $1,000,000 worth of unauthorized transactions. 

Court documents allege that Stewart used a company credit card for flights, purchases at casinos, meals at area restaurants, home goods, podcast services and more. His card has since been frozen. 

In a Facebook post on Friday, North Fork Area Transit thanked "all the wonderful people asking how they can help us financially," noting that it is accepting checks made out to North Fork Area Transit at any Elkhorn Valley Bank location.

The organization said it needs at least $300,000 raised to remain active.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Mobility Management team has taken over operations, according to the nonprofit.