Tuesday, March 17, 2009
MLive reports over the past few years, people entrusted to guard the finances at several Ann Arbor area nonprofits have instead siphoned off the funds for themselves, often splurging on extravagant trips, jewelry or gambling the funds away. It's happened everywhere from hockey associations to fraternal lodges to community centers and cemetery associations. Adding to the sting, law enforcement officials concede that embezzlers who get caught rarely go to jail - and sometimes aren't even forced to pay back as much as they stole.
Just how often charities and businesses are ripped off is nearly impossible to calculate. The ones who get caught, authorities say, are usually those who get so bold they take most or all of a group's money. On the outside, the embezzlers appeared to be trustworthy, police and organization officials say.
In his 29 years at the prosecutor's office, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie said he's seen only two cases where an embezzler was incarcerated at sentencing - and both of those people had prior felony records. Defense attorneys and judges point to sentencing guidelines that give more weight to violent crimes under a point system that determines who goes to prison. Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton said sentencing guidelines are set by the state Legislature and include such factors as the defendant's prior record and the nature of the offense. In most cases, officials say, an embezzler is convicted of a felony and ordered to serve probation while paying restitution. And even if they violate their probation, embezzlers are usually given several chances to meet conditions before they end up behind bars, records show.
In 2000, former Ann Arbor District Library finance director Donald G. Dely was ordered to pay $119,387 in restitution. Court records show he repeatedly failed to repay the money, and was given several chances. He still owes $57,527, but Dely is now in prison after violating probation in 2006 for possession/sale of counterfeit insurance certificates and failure to pay restitution, state records show.
Mackie said he'd like to see some embezzlers sentenced to prison in cases where the amount stolen is significant. He said his office rarely strikes sentencing agreements with defendants, but the majority agree to plead guilty because their attorneys know the chances of being incarcerated are slim. Officials say getting the stolen money repaid is often a burdensome, lengthy process. And restitution doesn't even begin to cover all the damages from the theft, which can include such things as unpaid bills and legal obligations that went ignored, officials said. Investigators can seldom prove exactly how much was stolen, Mackie said. Although embezzlers can be fined on top of restitution, court officials say it rarely happens.