Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Restitution hearing held for woman charged with embezzlement

The Negaunee woman who pleaded guilty to embezzlement last week was back in court on Tuesday.

Noelle Johnson had a restitution hearing for embezzlement in Marquette County Circuit Court. Johnson previously pleaded guilty to a felony charge of embezzlement of $1,000 to $20,000 from a non-profit.

She also entered a guilty plea to one misdemeanor embezzlement charge.

Evergreen Christian Church members testified she used church money to cover personal credit card bills among other expenses.

"We found that there were internet, cell phone and house phone expenses that were being charged and paid by the church funds," said church treasurer Regina Harjala.

The restitution hearing has recessed until Wednesday at noon. Johnson did testify on Tuesday and is expected to continue testimony Wednesday.

The Evergreen Christian Church closed shortly after the embezzlement came to light.

 A Negaunee woman was sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty to embezzlement.

Noelle Johnson, 40, is not facing jail time right now, but will have to repay thousands of dollars.

"$6623.87; that amount of restitution will be ordered as a condition on probation of a misdemeanor offense and a condition of supervision with a felony offense," said Judge Jennifer Mazzuchi.

Johnson admitted to using church funds to pay for personal expenses, like gas and credit card bills, while working as the secretary of the Evergreen Christian Church in Negaunee Township.

"I accept responsibility for the Ferrell gas bills," said Johnson. "Also I want to give my heartfelt and sincerest apology to the church, the pastor, and all those affected for all the distress that I caused them."

The more than $6,000 restitution accounts for the documented checks, but the church claims there's over $11,000 in undocumented checks. That number was dismissed by the court, because it was late, and the defense didn't have a chance to review it.

"The prosecution didn't present any checks related to the credit card payments, but more importantly the overage of wages," said Raymond Gregory, defense attorney.

"The difficulty in large part of reviewing the financial documents here is that the financial recording and recording system isn't very formal because that wasn't the focus of the institution and the person responsible for the financial statements and for maintaining the checkbook is the person who has embezzled from the church," said Judge Mazzuchi.

Members of the church spoke at the sentencing about how the Evergreen Christian Church struggled in 2013.

"How many times did I ask you face-to-face, Noelle, if Pastor Mike isn't getting paid, how are you doing? Are you getting paid? Are you doing okay?" said Annette Carriere, the pastor's wife. "You replied to me, face-to-face, I'm okay, don't worry about me."

Johnson paid $4,000 in cash towards restitution on Friday. She'll serve one year probation, and appear again in court in eight months to see if she complied in paying back the rest of the money

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