Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Priest’s allies say his good works outweigh his embezzlement in Michigan

A Catholic priest facing a prison sentence for embezzling money from his prosperous suburban Detroit church is getting support from dozens of supporters who are urging a judge to show mercy.
Federal prosecutors are seeking a 37-month sentence for the Rev. Ed Belczak, who is returning to federal court Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to fraud in an embezzlement scheme at St. Thomas More Church in Troy. Investigators say he stole about $573,000.
Some of that money was used to buy a Florida condominium from his church manager.
“Fr. Belczak has undoubtedly touched tens of thousands of lives, if not more, for the better,” wrote auto dealer Jeffrey Cauley. “For whatever wrong he may have done, the good he has done in … making us all better human beings outweighs it by a thousand times.”
Kathleen Marshall told US District Judge Arthur Tarnow that she would welcome Belczak back as pastor at St. Thomas More. He was removed from the parish in 2013 after an audit raised questions about church finances.
Prosecutors are dismissing calls for probation, saying it would be a “gentle wrist-slap,” the Detroit Free Press reported 
“The defendant should not be permitted to seek shelter behind the very congregation and employer he defrauded,” prosecutors wrote.
Belczak’s attorney, Jerome Sabbota, said the priest was under duress.
“The pressures of that church, which became one of the largest and wealthiest in the Detroit metro area, caused him both to drink, as well as to become a compulsive gambler in relation to the stock market,” Sabbota said in a court filing. “That never brought him peace.”

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Embezzlement investigation snares Fortville PTO officer

The PTO treasurer at Fortville Elementary School has been asked to step aside as the organization launches an investigation into its finances.
The former treasurer, 39-year-old Marcy Smitley, is accused of stealing more than $120,000 from a homeowners association she managed on the south side of Indianapolis. Smitley faces 21 felony counts, including theft and forgery, Fox59 reports.
She's also served as PTO treasurer for two school years, according to the PTO president. However, the district said they've seen no signs of theft from the PTO account.
"My reaction was just amazement. I was shocked," said William Riggs, superintendent of the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation. "She's done a good job of being a volunteer."
Riggs said the district got tipped off by a local paper.
Marion County prosecutors said Smitley took approximately $127,983 from the homeowners association at the Windslow Crossing condominium complex on the south side from 2009 to 2014. Smitley was working as a manager of that HOA, collecting dues, paying bills, and getting bids for various jobs on the property, according to a board member.
Investigators said she wrote unauthorized checks to her own management company. By May of last year, HOA leaders were suspicious and found the alleged fraud.
Smitley was booked in jail and bonded out last week. That's when the school got wind of the charges.
"That's something that they'll go through their receipts and their revenues and take a look at, but there's nothing I'm aware of that's inappropriate at this point," said Riggs.
Riggs said PTO funds are separate from school funds. The accounts typically don't carry large balances, no more than $5,000, and money from fundraisers is quickly reinvested in the school.
Still, PTO President Mary Jo Adams told us by phone that they are reviewing every transaction to make sure no money in their account is missing. She anticipates their preliminary investigation will be complete next week.
We went to Smitley's home for comment, but nobody answered the door.

Woman charged with embezzling from E.L. preschool

The former director of an East Lansing preschool has been charged with embezzling from the school.

Michele Lynn Mund, 36, of Laingsburg, was arraigned Monday in 54B District Court on multiple charges. She is the former director of the Eastminster Child Development Center.

Mund is charged with two counts of uttering and publishing, which generally refers to bouncing checks; one count of embezzlement of between $20,000 and $50,000; and one count of embezzling from a nonprofit.

The main embezzlement charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a $15,000 fine or both.

She is free on a $10,000 bond.

Eastminster board of directors chair Kim Kovalchick confirmed that Mund served as the center's director from March 2009 until her resignation on Aug. 5, 2014.

A letter sent to parents Monday said "some concerns" came to the board's attention regarding a few "specific Center expenses." Kovalchick declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation. Eastminster officials contacted East Lansing police in August 2014, Detective Lt. Scott Wrigglesworth said in a news release.

"The Board took immediate action," the letter continues, "by securing our financial accounts and communicating with our bank, financial auditors, and insurance company.

"Following the recommendations made by these professionals, the Board agreed to share documents with the auditors, insurance company and the East Lansing Police Department regarding the possible misuse of funds by a previous employee of the Center."

Kovalchick said a third-party audit spanning the previous year uncovered the issues, and that no irregularities were found in prior years' audits.

"The full extent of the issues were not discovered until after her resignation," Kovalchick said.

Wrigglesworth said the embezzlement took place over a period "in excess" of two years.

A preliminary hearing, which determines if there is enough evidence for a trial, is set for March 19 before Judge Richard Ball.

Nicholas Leydorf, Mund's attorney, declined comment when reached by phone.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Former Laurel Christian School headmaster pleads guilty to embezzlement

Former Laurel Christian School Headmaster Rick Bartley, 55, pleaded guilty in court Thursday to his indicted charge of embezzlement in excess of $25,000.

According to the Jones County District Attorney's Office, Bartley was stealing cash from the school overtime from 2011 – 2013. The office said when Bartley was previously asked if he had ever taken cash from Laurel Christian School Bartley replied and said he did and the reason he did was because he was living beyond his means.

District Attorney Tony Buckley said if the case went to trial the state would be able to prove that an amount of $58,000 was stolen from Laurel Christian School by Bartley. He went on to say they would be able to provide parents to testify in the case saying they paid Bartley cash for their child's education. Buckley said the state would also provide statements by some employees of the school testifying that all cash payments from 2008 and on that came into the office had to be turned in to Bartley.

Bartley received a 5 year sentence with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with all 5 years of that sentence suspended on condition that he successfully completes 5 years of unsupervised post-release supervision.

According to the district attorney's office, Bartley is not medically well. The office said the sentence given to Bartley is for the purpose of allowing him to return to his home in Alabama so that he is able to maintain his medical visits that he will need in Texas and Alabama.

Judge Dal Williamson said the sentence was not one that he would ordinarily approve of based on the crime committed, but he went ahead and sentenced Bartley to what the state and the Laurel Christian School board members agreed on. According to the district attorney's office, the school board did not wish to see Bartley go to prison.

“You violated the trust that a lot of people put in you, “said Judge Williamson to Bartley. “People looked up to you, I looked up to you.”

When asked if he had anything to say Bartley said, “I'm sorry and for all who hear this I would ask their forgiveness.”

Bartley was arrested after his sentence, booked into the Jones County jail and was then released. The D.A.'s office said Bartley will have to pay back $12,000 to Laurel Christian School.

“He's now a convicted felon, he can now no longer work in many jobs or vote because it's a crime of dishonesty,” said Buckley. “It's also a crime that cannot be expunged by law in Mississippi so he'll have that conviction for the rest of his life. It's not something that any professional person that's been in education with a wife and kids wants to have publicly acknowledged.”

Buckley said no student at LCS suffered as a result of the crime committed by Bartley, who was headmaster at the school from 1999 - 2013

Tustin woman charged in private-school embezzlement

A former officer manager in Orange has been charged with embezzling thousands of dollars from a Catholic school fundraising program and using the cash for designer clothes and private school tuition.

Adela Maria Tapia, 40, of Tustin was charged Monday with 15 felony counts, including grand theft and money laundering, authorities said. Tapia also faces sentencing enhancements for aggravated white collar crime over $100,000 and property loss of over $200,000.

Between 2006 and 2011, Tapia, a former office manager at the Holy Family Cathedral School in Orange, is accused of taking cash payments from families for a school fundraising gift card program and then depositing the money in her personal bank account, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Tapia also is accused of selling fundraising gift cards to her family members, one of whom is a Catholic church deacon, and then using the money to buy luxury items and private school tuition, prosecutors said.

Authorities launched an investigation in 2011 after the school’s principal found gift cards worth $120,000 were missing.

If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Former charter school director used shell companies to steal federal money

Federal prosecutors Wednesday said a former public charter school director used shell companies to embezzle more than $1 million in federal funds provided to the school for food and educational purposes.

U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday alleged that 40-year-old Benita Dinkins-Robinson, director of the former Mary L. Dinkins Higher Learning Academy in Bishopville, siphoned off money using four shell companies – J and J Contracting, T and E Catering, New Age Computers and Project Reach – that accepted payments of school money.

The school was a part of the S.C. Public Charter School District – a growing group of 31 public schools with 17,000 students and 500 teachers across South Carolina in more than a dozen counties. The Legislature created the statewide charter school district in 2007 as a way to empower parents and others to set up public schools with different missions. The Dinkins school was closed in 2013 after the charter district voted to stop its funding.

The Dinkins school was in rural Lee County and qualified for Title I funding, which allowed it to receive money for food and education for the students from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Education.

But testimony from Janice Crocco, a former 5th grade teacher at the Dinkins school, suggested that the federal funds never benefited the students.

Crocco, who worked for the school for a little over five months beginning in December 2010, said students would often go without meals at lunch because there was no food. In those instances, students would have to wait until pizza was ordered at the school just before they were dismissed.

Crocco also said the school’s overall cleanliness and organization was in disarray. She said when she would take her 12 students to the bathroom, she often brought toilet paper with her because there wasn’t any in the doorless stalls. She also said that Dinkins-Robinson was at the school only two to three days out of the week and would often not show up for scheduled faculty meetings.

Holliday alleged that Dinkins-Robinson would use the funding from the government to pay for a catering company, T and E Catering, to provide food for students. However, Eleazor Carter, Dinkins-Robinson’s attorney, said that while his client was a business partner in the catering company, the state’s charter school district approved of their services. Carter also conceded that Dinkins-Robinson was a founding member of Project Reach and that her brother owned New Age Computers.

Along with large cash withdrawals from the school’s account, Holliday said Dinkins-Robinson would make out checks to pay rent for the building in which the school operated that were in excess of the rent amount due. He alleged that she would spend the extra money on lavish vacations and shopping sprees.

The Dinkins school at first operated under the Lee County School District. It asked to be authorized as a charter school in Sumter County, reporting to the state charter school district, after receiving pushback and alleged harassment from Lee County, according to Carter.

Clay Eaton, a witness for the prosecution and a former public relations director for the charter school district, said when he inspected the school between 2010 and 2012 after it applied to be authorized by the charter district, he noticed the school would report inflated students numbers to the charter district, sometimes by the dozens.

Each public school and public charter school receives funding from state and federal entities on a per-pupil basis. If a public school has a large amount of special needs students or a large student population in general, it gets a higher per-pupil amount from the federal government.

U.S. Judge Terry Wooten dismissed Wednesday’s hearing early in light of the winter storm moving through the state. Wooten said the next trial session will be held Friday, weather permitting.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2015/02/25/4010299/opening-arguments-begin-in-million.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Woman allegedly embezzled $438,000 from Catholic school fundraiser

A 40-year-old mother was arrested Tuesday for allegedly embezzling more than $400,000 from a Catholic school’s fundraising program, Orange County prosecutors said.

Adela Maria Tapia allegedly used some of the money at the department store Nordstrom, racked up $60,000 in credit card charges and paid for her children's private school tuition.

Tapia, who lives in Tustin, faces two felony counts of grand theft and 13 felony counts of money laundering, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. If convicted on all charges, she could be sentenced to 14 years and 4 months in prison.

Between September 2006 and September 2011, Tapia ran the scrip card fundraising program at Holy Family Cathedral School in Orange.

The program raises about $200,000 annually for the school by purchasing gift cards at a discount, selling them to school families or parishioners and keeping the difference.

When families paid for gift cards with cash, prosecutors say Tapia pocketed the money and deposited it into her bank account. In all, she allegedly embezzled $438,000, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Labreche.

“It’s all lifestyle enhancement using other people’s money,” Labreche said.

From a safe at the school, prosecutors say Tapia took scrip cards and sold them to family members.

The scheme was uncovered when Tapia was transferred to an office manager position in 2011, prosecutors said.

The school’s principal noticed about $120,000 worth of scrip cards were missing from the safe where the cards were stored, then reported it to the Orange Police Department.

The three-year investigation saw a forensic accountant review more than 83,000 pages of banking and financial records.

It’s unclear if Tapia had retained an attorney. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

Holy Family Cathedral School Principal Margaret Harlow and the cathedral's rector, Msgr. Doug Cook, said in a letter to parents on Tuesday that the school was reimbursed for the missing money by the Diocese of Orange's insurance company.

The school has since improved the financial oversight of the scrip fundraising program. No programs were cut or tuition increased on account of the alleged theft, Harlow and Cook wrote.

"As a community of faith," they wrote, "we ask that you pray to God for all parties involved, and that a fair and just outcome is the ultimate result."