Thursday, July 25, 2013

Schlieve on probation after embezzlement from church in Wisconsin


Judge Andrew Bissonnette paused the defense’s argument to hand out a sentencing “cheat sheet” to more than 30 victims and observers in the court room Wednesday before placing James E. Schlieve on five years of probation.
Schlieve pleaded no contest to one count of theft in a business setting of greater than $10,000. Nine additional counts of theft in a business setting of greater than $10,000, four counts of identity theft to obtain money and an uncharged sheriff’s department case were dismissed, but read in to the record and considered for restitution purposes.
Schlieve was charged with embezzling a total of $229,315.12 from the Zion Lutheran Church in Ashippun and the Ashippun Lions Club.
Schlieve must serve eight months of conditional jail time to commence on Sept. 10 with Huber privileges. An additional four months was imposed and stayed. Schlieve must also perform 150 hours of community service.
Larry Christopherson, the president of the Lion’s Club where Schlieve was treasurer for 10 years, spoke at the hearing.
He said that the Lions were unable to give the scholarships that they normally gave, donations to food pantries were greatly reduced and all of the members donated just to keep the group operating.
“He was trusted completely,” Christopherson said. “Jim violated that trust by stealing our money.”
Schlieve’s brother and brother-in-law also spoke at the hearing.
Jerry Schlieve told the court that his brother was very giving toward his community and asked for leniency.
“Our God is a fair and forgiving God. I would hope that the court and the community might be the same way,” Jerry Schlieve said.
Brother-in-law Larry Rode described Schlieve as the patriarch of the family and a man who volunteered “unselfishly.”
“I just wish he would have come to me earlier. Maybe we could have avoided this,” Rode said.
Prosecuting attorney Bob Barrington noted that Schlieve had paid the full restitution by liquidating his 401k before the hearing date. However, he argued for a year of incarceration and two years of extended supervision.
“This man stole from his church. This man stole from a prominent civic organization,” Barrington said. “He seems, in terms of his character, to have a total disregard for the less fortunate.”
“He chose to protect his own assets until he got caught,” he added.
Barrington quoted some of the victim impact letters, including several from members of one of the organizations.
“There are 135 families depending on the food pantry,” Barrington read. “We thought we were donating to the food pantry. Mr. Schlieve thought his needs came first.”
Defense attorney William Gergen disagreed, noting that Schlieve came into his office and asked not for a defense, but help in doing the right thing.
“From my perspective, his response and repentance is unparalleled in my experience,” Gergen said.
He noted that Schlieve has always been very involved in charity work and community service.
“I see it as a crime of fear and cowardice,” Gergen said. “The embezzler who has the ability to pay restitution doesn’t exist ordinarily. Mr. Schlieve is in an usual situation, that his retirement savings were there.”
He noted that Schlieve had lost his job of 30 years due to the case and was now faced with starting over again at age 62 with basically nothing. He asked for five years of probation with whatever conditions the court imposed.
“It’s a shame that so much good that he has done gets washed away,” Gergen said.
Schlieve spoke briefly, apologizing for his choices and stating that he would accept whatever the court decided.
“This is not enough to express my shame,” Schlieve said. “It will be hard for many people to forget, much less forgive me. I can only hope you can forgive me at some point.”
Bissonnette said that in a way, white collar crimes are often given less punishment than more violent crimes, because white collar criminals often have more good characteristics to offset the bad.
He noted that it was stated in some of the letters that the fabric of the small community had been torn because of the case.
“If there’s some sense that justice was done, then the healing process could start,” Bissonnette said. “Some of the letters said that.”
He noted that the full restitution payment wasn’t as important to him as Gergen made it out to be.
“Money that wasn’t ever yours has now been restored. That’s not really punishment,” Bissonnette said.
He did agree, however, that the previous good deeds were enough to warrant probation and a withheld sentence.
“With the withheld sentence, the judge is taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Bissonnette said. “The court just can’t justify [prison] today with the circumstances.”

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